ST. PETERSBURG — Progress Energy Florida will close two of the state's worst polluting coal-fired generators when its new Levy County nuclear plant is up and running in 2020, the company announced Thursday.
The company said the closure of two units at its Crystal River Energy Complex in Citrus County represents the equivalent of removing 830,000 vehicles from Florida's roads. The decision follows months of talks with state officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole, said Progress Energy Florida chief executive Jeff Lyash.
Crist has hoped to reduce state carbon dioxide emissions to the 1990 level by 2025. The scheduled closure of the two Crystal River plants means the company would be 60 percent of the way toward the governor's goal, according to Progress Energy officials.
Independent studies have listed the two coal plants among the nation's top 50 polluters.
"Being good stewards of the environment is a big part of our business model," Lyash said. "We're not in this for next quarter's earnings. We've been doing this 100 years, and we want to be here for another 100."
The energy created by the two Crystal River coal plants, which opened in 1966 and 1969, will be replaced by the new nuclear plant set to be built at a cost of $17-billion in Levy County. Nuclear plants produce very low levels of carbon dioxide emissions.
Two coal-fired power generators will remain in operation at the Citrus County site, as will a nuclear reactor. Progress Energy will spend $1.3-billion installing air emission-reduction equipment at the two remaining coal-fired plants.
Eric Draper, deputy director and policy director of Audubon of Florida, called Progress Energy's decision proactive, noting that carbon dioxide emissions currently are unregulated by the federal government.
"Any coal plant we can get offline in the state of Florida will help to meet the state's newly established goals for reducing greenhouse gases," Draper said. "That's a good thing."
But not everyone thinks nuclear energy is the right replacement for coal.
Stephen Smith, executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Progress Energy would be better served investing in energy efficiency programs and alternative sources.
"Let's have an active, robust conversation about retiring coal-fired power plants," Smith said. "That's exciting, bold and forward-thinking. But it is not a foregone conclusion that we have to build this nuclear plant now."
Early this year, Progress Energy won approval to raise bills 25 percent starting in January to pay for higher 2008 fuel costs and for early costs of the $17-billion nuclear project.
The nuclear charge will add about $13 a month to the bill of the average residential customer, or about 10 percent more than today's bill.
Times staff writer Asjylyn Loder contributed to this report.