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Florida power companies panned in renewable energy ranking

The ranking is in a new report released by the Sierra Club this month.
Florida’s investor-owned power companies fell flat in a new report that ranked utilities around the country on their plans for renewable energy. Pictured is Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend Power Station in 2017. | [Luis Santana | Times (2017)]
Florida’s investor-owned power companies fell flat in a new report that ranked utilities around the country on their plans for renewable energy. Pictured is Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend Power Station in 2017. | [Luis Santana | Times (2017)]
Published Jan. 29

Florida’s investor-owned power companies fell flat in a new report that ranked utilities around the country on their plans for renewable energy, including the two that service most of the Tampa Bay region.

The Sierra Club graded power companies based on what sources the companies expect to generate their power from by 2030. Plans for renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, increased scores, while coal and natural gas — particularly new coal and natural gas — decreased scores.

“We find that, apart from a few leaders, these companies are falling short on all three of these necessary actions,” the report said, referring to retiring goal, stopping investments in new gas plants and replacing both with renewable energy.

Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light, the state’s two largest investor-owned power companies, received an “F” grade, scoring zero points. Duke Energy is expected to build 720 megawatts of new natural gas power by 2030.

“Duke Energy Florida (DEF) shares the goal of making the transition to a lower carbon fleet, including retiring our remaining coal-fired generation and bringing on more clean energy to replace it,” spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said in a statement.

The utility recently asked permission from regulators to retire two of its coal generators eight years early.

The only investor-owned Florida power company that was not in the “F” category was Tampa Electric Co.

Tampa Electric has 1,624 megawatts of new natural gas capacity planned over the next decade, the sixth highest amount of any company ranked. While it originally scored nine out of a possible 100, the Sierra Club re-ranked it to factor in its recently announced retirement of coal-powered Unit 3 at Big Bend Power Station, bringing its score up to 22 — a “D” grade.

“Tampa Electric has a strong legacy of environmental stewardship,” spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. “We’ve reduced our coal use by more than 90 percent, we’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by more than half and we have the most solar power per customer of any utility in Florida.”

The highest scores in the report went to the Public Service Company of Oklahoma (87 points, “A”), Northern Indiana Public Service Company (82 points, “A”) and Minnesota’s Great River Energy (75 points, “A”).

“We want to see no new gas,” said John Romankiewicz, one of the report’s authors. “We want to see coal replaced entirely with clean energy.”

The report comes as President Joe Biden’s administration announced its priorities around climate change. Biden recently signed an order re-entering the U.S. in the Paris Agreement, a worldwide commitment to reducing climate change.

Florida has historically lagged when it comes to renewable energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, just 3 percent of its energy comes from solar power.

Tampa Electric, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light are all undertaking large-scale solar projects currently, each of which will boost the companies’ energy mix to less than 15 percent solar power. Most of their power will continue to come from natural gas.

The highest score of any power company both in Florida and in the southeast region went to the Orlando Utilities Commission — 55 points, a “B” grade. The municipal utility is pursuing a goal of being net-zero for carbon emissions by 2050 with a 50 percent reduction by 2030 at the behest of its mayor in 2017.