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Florida Power looks at sites hurt by mines

Florida Power Corp. is retreating from the beaches and heading inland in its statewide search for the site of a future power generating complex. The company has adopted that strategy because of costs and environmental concerns associated with many of the coastal sites, Florida Power officials told their environmental advisory group Friday.

Florida Power is actively searching for places that have already suffered environmentally - so-called "disturbed sites."

Environmental lawyer Tom Reese, a member of the advisory board, said Florida Power was moving in the right direction. "Their top sites appear to have merit to them," he said.

Some of the sites most attractive to the company are located in the heart of the state's phosphate belt, Polk and Hardee counties, where decades of strip mining have largely denuded the landscape.

With Florida Power's current set of standards, the top choice would be somewhere near Fort Meade in Polk County, not far from where Polk,

Hillsborough, Sarasota and Hardee counties converge.

Florida Audubon Society vice president Charles Lee described the Polk site as "a moonscape the phosphate industry left." Lee said communities near there may welcome a power complex, because it likely would provide thousands of jobs to a regional economy long depressed by low phosphate prices.

One company official said it also might be easier to get state and federal permission to build on a disturbed site. "The agencies are more inclined toward cleaning a blighted area than blighting a clean area," said Patsy Baynard, Florida Power's director of envi-ronmental and licensing affairs.

The St. Petersburg-based utility announced last year its intention to find about 5,000 acres to build its next big power generating site.

The new facility would be capable of producing up to 3,000 megawatts of power, or about 50 percent of the utility's current capacity.

Florida Power officials say they would like the first generating units to begin operating by 1997. The new plants likely will burn coal, but the company also is exploring the feasibility of using other fuels, including oil, natural gas and nuclear sources.

Florida Power is not alone in exploring the mined-out portions of the state's phosphate region. Tampa Electric Co. and others also have noted that the area might serve as a good place to generate electricity.

"It's a sanity check," Florida Power spokesman Ray Blush said of the overlapping searches for generating sites in the phosphate belt. "Either we're both doing a lot of things right, or we're both doing a lot of things wrong. Hopefully, it's the former."