TAMPA — Amid growing controversy over new carbon pollution standards, a pair of Democratic lawmakers visited St. Joseph's Hospital on Monday to learn about its alternative energy initiatives.
U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, of Tampa, and Frank Pallone, of New Jersey, toured the hospital's cogeneration plant. Its natural gas-fired combustion engine can produce enough electricity to power the entire complex.
The system serves another purpose: Its heat can be turned into steam, which can be used to clean medical equipment.
Castor said the technology is particularly important in light of the new Clean Power Plan, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that sets limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
"We've got to get creative," she said. "In Florida, we have to reduce our carbon pollution by well over 30 percent over the next 20 years."
Castor acknowledged the Clean Power Plan, established by the Obama Administration in August, is facing a court challenge from 27 states including Florida. She said the lawsuit could "put us further behind."
"We've got to focus on these innovative solutions now like this cogeneration plant, like energy efficiency, like renewable energy conservation so we can meet those targets," she said.
But Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi stood behind Florida's involvement in the challenge.
"As I have said in the past, Florida needs a diverse energy portfolio," she said in a statement. "However, the rule of law matters — states' rights matter — and the federal government must respect our sovereignty."
Bondi added: "Unfortunately, the congresswoman cares very little about the increasing costs associated with these burdensome regulations."
St. Joseph's has had the cogeneration plant since 1993. It saves about $200,000 a year and reduces the reliance on TECO Energy, said Tom Davidson, director of facilities for BayCare Health System's east region.
"It provides energy back to our hospital so we don't have to buy so much from the provider," he said.
The system also allows St. Joseph's to generate its own power in the event of a hurricane.
Davidson said the generator is one of only two like it in the country. Nearby Tampa General has four diesel gas generators for emergency standby power, but is exploring co-generator options, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Pallone, the ranking member of the powerful U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee, said the model could be easily replicated elsewhere in the nation.
"It creates more efficiency and therefore saves energy, which is so important given climate change," he said.
He said he planned to take the idea back to Washington, and possibly incorporate it into future policies.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at email@example.com or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.