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Sierra Club starts campaign against Tampa Electric's Big Bend updates

The environmental advocacy group urged the utility to be more transparent with the public about its plans for converting its Apollo Beach facility to natural gas.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, launched a campaign Monday to urge Tampa Electric Co. to abandon its plans for more natural gas at Big Bend Power Station. Pictured is Big Bend in 2017.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, launched a campaign Monday to urge Tampa Electric Co. to abandon its plans for more natural gas at Big Bend Power Station. Pictured is Big Bend in 2017.
Published Feb. 11, 2019

The Sierra Club has a message for Tampa Electric Co.: Drop the natural gas renovation plans at Big Bend Power Station.

In its #TellTheTruthTECO campaign launched Monday, the environmental advocacy group urged the utility to be more transparent with the public about its plans for converting its Apollo Beach facility to natural gas. Namely, the group wants more emphasis on the impact natural — or fracked — gas has on climate change.

"We're sounding the alarm today to let Tampa Bay residents know that (Tampa Electric) is planning to make the situation worse for residents when it comes to climate change," said Susannah Randolph, senior campaign representative for the club's "Beyond Coal" campaign.

Tampa Electric, often referred to by the name of its parent company, TECO, announced last May that it would spend $853 million to convert Unit 1 at Big Bend from coal to natural gas and shut down coal-fired Unit 2. An accident at Unit 2 killed five workers in June 2017.

The conversion plan drew opposition from environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, which want the utility to make a stronger commitment to renewable energy sources, such as solar power.

The Sierra Club filed a motion with Florida's Division of Administrative Hearings in October 2018 trying to prevent Tampa Electric from going forward with the expansion. And at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting in January, several groups, including the NAACP, League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club, spoke during a public comment period against the renovations, citing concerns about climate change's effect on Tampa Bay.

In a statement, Tampa Electric said the changes to the facility will "improve the land, water and air emissions at Big Bend."

"Coupled with our significant increase in solar arrays, this project will make Tampa Electric substantially cleaner and greener than it is today," the utility said in a statement. "This is a win for customers and a win for the environment."

Tampa Electric is currently halfway through its effort to build 600 megawatts of solar power by 2021.

The goal of the newly-launched campaign, Randolph said in an interview Monday, is to get Tampa Electric to abandon its plans to add more natural gas to Big Bend, and instead commit to more renewable energy sources.

Tampa Bay residents "deserve a long-term plan from (Tampa Electric) to transition away from fossil fuel and toward clean energy," Randolph said.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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