It is with great sadness that I write today about the tragic accident at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station on June 29. I am heartbroken over the devastating loss of life, and everyone in the Tampa Electric family is grieving. My thoughts and prayers are with the affected families. I have spent time with many of them, expressing my deepest sympathies during this terrible time.
This is how we are moving forward:
Evaluating safety while supporting families. In recent weeks, the outpouring of support from our customers, employees, contractors, other utilities and members of the community has been touching and inspirational. As a response to that outpouring, TECO has established a charitable fund through the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to help support the six workers and their families (www.cftampabay.org/tecofamilyrelief). All donations to the TECO Family Relief Fund will go to the affected families. TECO has made an initial contribution and also will match contributions.
I want to assure our customers and the community that safety remains Tampa Electric's No. 1 priority. We want all workers at TECO — whether employees or contractors — to go home every night to their families. We never want to lose another member of our Tampa Electric family in this way.
We are working with experts to help us understand exactly what caused this accident at Big Bend — and why. And until we have more details on that event, we have made some immediate changes to ensure everyone's safety.
Ending slag-tank cleaning while units are running until we have more facts. This accident occurred while performing a procedure that is part of plant operations in our industry. Workers at Big Bend have done this work safely hundreds of times in the past. Going forward, until we understand what happened, we will shut down the unit before performing this procedure.
For decades, Big Bend Power Station has been an important part of Tampa Electric's fleet, and it will remain a key component in our generation of electricity. We are constantly working to maintain, enhance and consider this plant's long-term role — particularly as we've added solar capacity at the site, removed one chimney and evolved the coal-fueled plant to burn more natural gas in the past year.
Reviewing safety procedures. We are evaluating how we do everything. We will hold a companywide safety stand-down to refocus our efforts. We are looking from top to bottom to make our company even safer. We hate to learn lessons in this manner, but we will learn from this. And we will share our knowledge with the entire utility industry so everyone can be safer.
This accident is especially difficult because safety is ingrained in our corporate culture — down to how we cross streets and walk down stairs. During the past 20 years, TECO has seen a steady decrease in safety incidents. In fact, 2016 was the safest year in Tampa Electric's history.
And yet, this accident occurred, and families must now face a life without their loved ones.
While we continue to pray and care for those affected, we must understand what occurred, learn from it so we can prevent it — or anything of this nature — from ever happening again. We must put all our effort into ensuring our procedures, training and teamwork are as safe as possible.
And that's our pledge. We will continue to care for our employees and contractors, we will work even more safely, and we will always be a positive part of this community that we all call home.
Gordon Gillette is president and chief executive officer of Tampa Electric and Florida Operations.