The recent climate summit and executive orders from Gov. Charlie Crist created unprecedented national exposure. Progress Energy Florida has long seen the relationship between energy and the environment as critical for our customers and our company. We credit the governor for elevating this important issue. Now, the real work begins.
Following the climate summit, many of the questions asked of our company focused on where the state's utilities differ with the governor. But more important is the fact that there is significant common ground.
Like Gov. Crist and many other citizens of Florida, Progress Energy is committed to a balanced solution of meeting the energy needs of our fast-growing state. That means a continued and even stronger emphasis on one of the nation's premier energy-efficiency programs; it means increased investments in renewable energy, and state-of-the-art power plants.
We are moving forward on all three fronts, because each is critical to ensuring an available, environmentally sound, reliable and affordable energy supply for the nearly 1.7-million households and businesses that depend on us 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We know that the cleanest and greenest kilowatt is the one we do not use. In fact, since 1981, Progress Energy customers have saved nearly $825-million in energy costs and eliminated almost 7-million tons of carbon dioxide (the equivalent of 1.2-million cars) through participation in energy-efficiency programs. That's enough to power the city of St. Petersburg for more than three years.
More can be done, but it will take a culture change. We are committed to expanding cost-effective energy-efficiency programs. This year, we implemented 39 new measures that will help avoid the need to build three power plants over the next decade. In June, we launched our "Save the Watts" campaign to raise customer awareness of programs to save money, reduce energy use and improve the environment.
We must each commit to view responsible energy use as a civic duty. As our Save the Watts campaign states, "It's your wallet, it's your world."
Renewable energy technologies
We continue to expand the use of alternative energy in Florida. We have signed a contract to purchase the output of a 130-megawatt power plant that will use environmentally friendly E-grass as its fuel source. That Central Florida project represents the largest biomass power plant of its kind in the country.
We recently signed another contract with a company that will use waste wood (yard trimmings, bark, etc.) to generate up to 75 megawatts of electricity in what will be the largest plant of its kind in the country. These projects will avoid the need to burn 5-million tons of coal in future years and will lower carbon emissions.
Progress Energy has been intimately involved in Florida's first hydrogen fueling station, near the Orlando International Airport. The station is the anchor of the hydrogen highway in Florida.
The development of environmentally sound renewable energy sources and the technology that supports them is vital. However, each renewable project that we support must pass a critical customer test: It must be cost effective.
State-of-the-art plants and delivery systems
Even with a considerable increase in efficiency and renewable energy investment, it is critical that we continue to pursue state-of-the-art power plants. Building plants and transmission lines takes many years, so we must plan for those resources now to ensure they will be available when needed.
We have a state-mandated responsibility to meet the needs of the nation's fourth most-populous state, and we believe nuclear energy must continue to be a key part of a diverse and reliable resource mix. Nuclear energy continues to be the safest, most economical, carbon-free way to generate large-scale energy for our state.
A strong focus on nuclear energy - not only from the electric utilities but from our regulators and legislators - will be critical if we are to meet the governor's vision for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and increasing the state's renewable-energy portfolio.
In the months and years that follow the governor's call to action, the debate will be robust. We believe the issue is not a competition between alternatives, but rather a challenge to leverage all resources in the best interests of our customers.
Supporting the growth of our economy, protecting our environment and providing value for our customers are all critical parts of a single objective. If we work together, if we are careful in our decision making, it can be done.
As Florida moves forward in evaluating and implementing changes, we will be at the table, ensuring that our customers' need for reliable, affordable and environmentally sound energy continues to be met, and working to expand on the common ground by developing a shared, responsible and long-term vision for the state's energy future.
Jeff Lyash is president and CEO of Progress Energy Florida. Headquartered in St. Petersburg, the electric utility serves central and west-coastal Florida.