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Tampa council OKs electric rights-of-way pact

TAMPA — The City Council gave final approval to a 25-year agreement with Tampa Electric Thursday that outlines the terms for the utility's use of city rights of way for power lines.

The vote came despite hours of testimony from dozens of residents at two public hearings and a deluge of e-mails and phone calls to City Council members urging them to reject the contract or at least postpone the vote for six months.

Opponents wanted to extract more commitments from Tampa Electric for conservation, renewable energy, burying power lines and protecting trees.

"I don't want you to think your voices were not heard," said chairman Tom Scott before he voted in favor of the contract. "I am pro-conservation, pro-green, pro-renewable energy."

But Scott repeatedly made the point that the city can address only the right of way, and the other matters are the purview of state and federal regulators.

He also asked Tom Hernandez, Tampa Electric's vice president of supply, to state "one more time, on the record," that the utility would participate in a task force set up by Mayor Pam Iorio to address conservation issues.

Hernandez answered yes.

More than 20 people spoke against the agreement, including representatives of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Seminole Heights residents.

Susan Glickman, who helped Tampa Electric market its renewable energy program in 2003 and is now regional director of the Climate Group, urged the council to postpone a vote and pressure the company to do more.

"It's the nature of utilities to be risk averse," she said.

Only two citizens spoke on behalf of Tampa Electric.

One of them, Andrea Graham, board president of the Stageworks theater group, told the council about the utility's support of a play for elementary school students about energy conservation.

In an interview after speaking, she said she didn't know anything about the franchise agreement. "TECO asked me to come to talk," she said.

And Jeffrey Mount, owner of Wright's Gourmet House, spoke in support of Tampa Electric, and said he did so at the company's request. He said he knows company executives from his work with business groups.

In the end, the company played hardball, with Hernandez saying the company had no intention of including conservation measures in the contract and that delaying it for six months wouldn't help.

"It could look different in six month but maybe not in the way you're thinking," he cautioned.

City Attorney Chip Fletcher told the council if it rejected the deal, Tampa Electric might refuse to pay millions in franchise fees and had indicated it would decline to sign a multimillion-dollar contract committing it to purchase power from the city's waste-to-energy plant.

"Do they have all the marbles in this game and we have none?" asked council member John Dingfelder, who opposed the agreement.

Council members Linda Saul-Sena and Mary Mulhern pleaded with their colleagues for a fourth vote to postpone the decision.

Mulhern argued that the city should do anything possible to reduce its carbon output, "even if it's just a little sentence in a franchise agreement."

"It's our responsibility in the world today to do this," she said.

The contract passed by a vote of 5-2, with Dingfelder and Saul-Sena voting against it. Mulhern said she voted in favor because she thought she was voting on an amendment to change the contract from 25 to 10 years and not the contract itself.

She said she decided not to ask to change her vote because it wouldn't have made a difference.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa council OKs electric rights-of-way pact 12/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 11:42pm]
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