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Tampa looking for utility partner to buy electricity made from burning garbage

TAMPA — A decades-old agreement between the city of Tampa and Tampa Electric Co. ended Thursday when the City Council terminated a deal to sell the utility electricity generated at the city's waste-to-energy plant.

Every day, the city burns more than 1,000 tons of garbage, converting it to 22 megawatts of electricity per hour at its McKay Bay waste-to-energy plant east of Ybor City.

Under state and federal law, the city can use only a tiny fraction of the electricity, enough to run the plant itself. The rest is sold to Tampa Electric at wholesale prices, about 3 cents per kilowatt. The retail rate, which the city pays to power its buildings, is about 10 cents per kilowatt.

For more than two years, Tampa Electric and city officials have been negotiating a an agreement that would last until 2024. The existing contract expires in August 2011.

But in September, the Florida Public Service Commission sent the two sides back to the bargaining table, saying Tampa Electric had offered to pay too much for the city's electricity, which could result in a rate increase for customers.

After continued discussions, the two sides couldn't agree on a new rate, and both now want out of the deal.

The city plans to negotiate with another utility. That doesn't sit well with City Council member Charlie Miranda.

"The losers are going to be us," he said, pointing out that even if the city reaches an agreement with another utility, the city will have to pay Tampa Electric to use its transmission lines to get the power from the waste-to-energy plant to another facility.

In other action, council members voted to review a "green" building ordinance after learning the city won't be seeking a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design —- or LEED —- Silver certification offered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The ordinance now requires that city buildings of more than 5,000 square feet be built to that standard, but not necessarily certified.

"We're going to move forward. We're going to build that rec center. It's going to be a wonderful thing, but I think we can do better," said council member John Dingfelder. He said he believes the intent of the ordinance was to get the certification.

Steve Daignault, the city's administrator for public works, said certification can add $40,000 to the cost of construction.

"It's not as simple as when we're done we send off a piece of paper and they stamp it and send it back," he said.

Council member Mary Mulhern said she believes city staff members have the qualifications to handle some of the certification work.

"I don't think it's as onerous as you're making it sound," she told Daignault.

Council members also agreed to roll back their budget to 2009 funding levels, something Mayor Pam Iorio has asked other city departments to do. The move is an effort to offset a $27.5 million shortfall in the 2011 budget.

Mulhern said she has unspent money in her 2010 fiscal year discretionary account, and requested that it be given to the parks department to help pay for scholarships for after-school or summer programs.

Miranda proposed exploring a merger of the council and city clerk's offices to save money.

He also suggested requiring any City Council members who resign to run for another office in November to wait four years before running again for City Council. Council elections are held in March.

Council members voted 5-1 to support Miranda's motion to have city attorneys draft such rules. Council member John Dingfelder was absent, and Linda Saul-Sena, who is running for the Hillsborough County Commission in November, voted no.

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

Tampa looking for utility partner to buy electricity made from burning garbage 04/01/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 1, 2010 11:24pm]
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