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Florida energy bill focused on natural gas could benefit TECO

The company has a third of the lobbyists registered to HB 1128.
Pictured is Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Pictured is Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Mar. 16
Updated Mar. 16

A bill that would prevent local governments from banning natural gas could benefit Tampa Electric Co.’s sister company, Peoples Gas.

SB 1128 would bar local governments from banning natural gas from new buildings. Much of Florida’s push for renewable energy sources has originated from municipalities that are on the front lines of responding to climate change’s effects. The bill would strip them of their ability to require monopoly utilities in their area to opt for carbon-neutral energy sources in new construction.

Currently, if a municipality decided it did not want natural gas in new buildings, Peoples Gas could lose out on those potential customers. Under the bill, municipalities would not be allowed to veto the energy source, preserving those customers for the Tampa utility.

Of the eight lobbyists registered to the bill, three represent TECO Energy, the company that houses both Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas. Peoples Gas serves more than 400,000 customers with its 11,000 miles of gas mains in Florida, according to the company’s website.

The Tampa utility’s spokeswoman had not returned a request for comment as of Tuesday afternoon.

Related: https://www.tampabay.com/news/florida-politics/2021/03/09/florida-lawmakers-advance-bills-to-halt-local-clean-energy-efforts/

Another lobbyist on the bill represents Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group. According to a 2019 filing, the most recent available, the nonprofit’s board is comprised of executives from Florida power companies, including former Duke Energy Florida president Catherine Stempien, outgoing Tampa Electric chief executive Nancy Tower, Florida Power & Light chief executive Eric Silagy and Seminole Electric chief executive Lisa Johnson.

The bill, which is framed as an effort to preserve consumer choice for energy sources, is opposed by environmental advocates,

“It’s really imposing and putting gas infrastructure in place to keep us essentially addicted to gas,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Florida is heavily reliant on natural gas. The state’s five investor-owned power companies generate the bulk of their energy from the fuel source with under 15 percent for each coming from renewable sources such as solar power. A ranking earlier this year by advocacy group the Sierra Club graded the power companies in the “F” and “D” categories for their reliance on natural gas.

Duke Energy expects to build 720 megawatts of natural gas capacity by 2030, and Tampa Electric is currently in the process of an $850 million project that will convert a generator at its Big Bend Power Station to natural gas, a plan that was hotly contested by environmental advocates. Tampa Electric is planning about 1,624 megawatts of new natural gas capacity over the coming 10 years, the sixth highest amount of power companies across the country ranked by the Sierra Club.

In a committee meeting on the bill Tuesday, Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, asked why it is an issue for municipalities to have a preference for “clean energy.”

“Isn’t a move toward green energy a necessity to stem the tide of climate change and its potentially disastrous effects in Florida?” she said. “You can understand where cities are concerned because until recently, we weren’t even allowed to say the word ‘climate change’ in this capitol.”