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Deal with Tampa Electric on rights of way goes to vote today

TAMPA — The City Council today is scheduled for a final vote on a 25-year contract with Tampa Electric Co., one of the most divisive issues to come before it in recent memory.

The agreement determines how much the utility pays to use city rights of way for power lines. Opponents say it should include more commitments to such issues as conservation and burying power lines.

At a news conference Wednesday near City Hall, Don Mellman, with the Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the utility should curb its reliance on coal because the resulting pollution causes health problems such as asthma and lung damage.

"The citizens of Tampa Bay are at a severe risk," he said.

Warren Clark, pastor at First United Church of Tampa, said he wants to see Tampa Electric do more to protect the environment. "We want to pass forward to Florida's children a livable creation where we have turned the corner on global warming," he said.

City Council member Linda Saul-Sena, the most vocal opponent of the agreement, hosted Wednesday's news conference. She said the council should postpone approving the agreement for six months to try to gain concessions from Tampa Electric.

The utility and Mayor Pam Iorio have argued that conservation issues are the purview of the state and can't be included in the franchise agreement.

The City Council approved the contract last month, but a week later rejected it when council member Joseph Caetano changed his vote, saying the city had already spent too much time and money negotiating the deal.

That prompted harsh exchanges between Caetano and council member Charlie Miranda and John Dingfelder and Mary Mulhern, who oppose it.

On Monday, Miranda walked out of a Hillsborough County Democratic Party meeting when Saul-Sena urged opposition to the agreement.

The League of Women Voters is circulating a letter lodging its complaints. Among other things, the League worries that the contract contains "no provision for a city buyout, full or partial," wrote president Linda D'Aquila.

Tampa Electric spokesman Rick Morera said the contract is fair and the utility has pledged to take part in a task force proposed by Iorio to work on conservation issues after the council approves the deal. "Some of the issues like renewable energy and energy efficiency are issues that we care greatly about," he said.

Right now about 3 percent of electricity provided by Tampa Electric comes from renewable sources, he said. But about a year ago the utility invited proposals on more renewable projects.

"We're not ready at this point to discuss the specifics," he said. "But we certainly have been looking at all our options."

He said the utility also has submitted a plan to state regulators for a wind turbine facility.

The council vote is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. today.

Deal with Tampa Electric on rights of way goes to vote today 12/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 5:49pm]

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