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The quest to meet clean air standards

Tampa Electric’s Bayside plant, center, once was coal-fired, but after a dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency, the utility spent $700-million to switch to natural gas.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times (1999)

Tampa Electric’s Bayside plant, center, once was coal-fired, but after a dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency, the utility spent $700-million to switch to natural gas.

With all the fuss lately about greenhouse gases, good old air pollution gets lost in the haze. That is, until news this month that Hillsborough and neighboring counties might not be able to meet new federal air-quality standards. ¶ With the specter of tailpipe emissions checks looming on the horizon, environmental officials are trying to figure out how to clean up the skies. At the same time the area's primary electric utilities, TECO Energy's Tampa Electric and Progress Energy Florida, combined already have started a nearly $2.5-billion investment to meet a separate set of clean air regulations that go into effect early next year. Those efforts could nudge the Tampa Bay region into compliance with the new rules that lowered acceptable levels of ozone.
Tampa Electric's plans

Tampa Electric's work began in 2000, when the company settled a dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency by committing to cleaning up its coal plant emissions, said spokeswoman Laura Duda. The utility spent about $700-million switching its Bayside power plant from coal to natural gas, and installing pollution-control technology.

The EPA later capped emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain. That law, the Clean Air Interstate Rule, goes into effect next year. To meet the requirements, Tampa Electric has undertaken a $330-million project at its Big Bend power station, as well as a series of smaller upgrades meant to cut emissions.

Overall, the utility will have spent more than $1.2-billion by 2010, Duda said. For those upgrades, customers are paying $1.04 for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.
Progress Energy's plans

Progress Energy is undertaking similar efforts at a cost of $1.26-billion, said spokesman Buddy Eller. It is switching its Anclote power plant in Pasco County and its Bartow plant in Pinellas County from oil to natural gas. It is also installing pollution controls at two coal plants in Crystal River. Customers will start paying for it next year, with a charge of $3.50 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.

As Progress Energy works to meet the federal standards, it has also joined with several Florida utilities to fight parts of the rule. The case is scheduled for hearings in a Washington, D.C., appeals court today.

The utilities claim that the EPA moved the deadline from 2010 to 2009, making them unable to comply with part of the program in time. The utilities also dispute additional rules that force cuts in summer to keep Florida's emissions from polluting neighboring states.

How states get their power

Florida's dependence on natural gas and coal to generate electricity is slowly changing as utilities look for ways to meet soaring demand while trying to comply with tougher clean air standards and manage the affordability of electricity. As these maps show, coal remains a dominant fuel for the industry in the majority of the country. Nuclear is expected to grow significantly as a percentage of the overall fuel mix for electricity despite ongoing concerns about long-term storage of radioactive nuclear fuel once it has been used.

The quest to meet clean air standards 03/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 6:00pm]
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