Archie Collins has big plans to make Tampa Bay a greener and more sustainable place. As the new president and CEO of Tampa Electric Co., he’s committed to driving down the company’s greenhouse gas emissions and investing more in solar energy going forward.
Originally from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Collins was the chief executive of Grand Bahama Power Co. and chief operating officer of Emera Caribbean before becoming chief operating officer of Tampa Electric. In February, he became the company’s new leader.
Collins, a Tampa resident since 2018, spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about his vision for Tampa Electric Co.’s future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your priorities for Tampa Electric Co.?
I’ve been in this area now for coming on four years, and I have been in this industry for well over 30 years. TECO really has had such a rich history in this community since its founding in 1899 and I have been so impressed in the time that I have been here in the relationship that exists between the community and the company. The employees are really proud to work for TECO, and it shows in the commitment that they bring every day to do everything they can to deliver value to customers, and the community. I say all that because that is the backdrop against which I come into this role. So my job is to do everything I can to continue to cultivate that, to continue to ensure that those bonds remain strong.
We find ourselves now at a pivotal time in the electricity industry. What got us here won’t get us there. What I mean by that is the traditional paradigm of how we generally think about electric utilities is you have big centrally located generating stations, like the Big Bend power plant, delivering power across wires that run overhead and being consumed by customers. That has been the model for 100, 120 years. And that’s all changing.
The transformation is largely one of what we call decarbonization, which is doing what we can to move away from coal, moving towards more green, clean renewable energy. I think it would surprise many of our customers to know that in just the last five years, we have reduced our consumption of coal by 95 percent. In the last 20 years, we have reduced the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we generate as a company by 50 percent, even though we produce 25 percent more power than we did 20 years ago. And it’s more common knowledge that we’ve really begun to invest in renewable energy, and solar power specifically.
We’re really proud that we are the leading utility in Florida. When it comes to how much solar energy do we have in our portfolio on a per-customer basis, we have the most. And the amount that we have today will be doubled in another two years — we’re constructing another 600 megawatts’ worth of solar as we speak.
Increasingly what’s happening now, is you now have more and more customers doing things like rooftop solar and putting a Tesla electric vehicle in their garage, or putting storage in their garage and so this is completely changing how electricity flows across the wires. We need to adapt to that, we need to make sure that our grid is designed for even more electric vehicles, even more storage, even more rooftop solar, so that we can maintain the same level of reliability and resilience that customers are used to today.
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What percentage of your energy generation mix currently comes from renewable sources, and what’s your goal for the future?
We currently have on our system 655 megawatts’ worth of renewable energy, of solar. That’s enough solar power to power 100,000 homes, just to ballpark it, and it represents between 6 and 7 percent of our total energy sales.
Our goal is within two years that will be doubled — so 14 percent of our total sales will come from solar energy.
How much would we like that to be? What I will say is we are committed to continuing to drive down our greenhouse gas emissions, and a central element of how we will do that is by continuing to invest in solar energy. How much? I can’t say, and the only reason being is we have to move at a pace that the grid keeps up, so that we don’t end up with any instability and in any sort of reliability issues. So we will be at 14 percent by the end of 2023, and we are committed to even more beyond that.
Would you support the state of Florida setting targets for renewable energy, such as using only clean energy by a certain year?
If the will of the state, if the will of customers, elected officials was to impose a renewable energy standard, we would support it. We would hope that we have the opportunity to shape it so that it is done at a pace that doesn’t cause issues for the grid. And it’s done at a pace that we feel is affordable for customers, that it would be done with with the principle of gradualism in mind.
What would we advocate for? I would have to do some thinking on that.
Tampa Electric Co. stopped electricity disconnections for people failing to pay their bills at the beginning of the pandemic, but those have largely since resumed. How are those disconnections going?
First of all, we don’t ever like to disconnect power for a customer. For us that’s the last resort, when we have repeatedly, repeatedly tried to reach out to a customer, and then this is the final way to get their attention.
We’re not really at a pre-pandemic state, because pre-pandemic, we used to have a bit of a lower threshold on how long we hadn’t heard from a customer, how much they’re behind on their bill. Our tolerance on those things at this moment is actually much higher, being a bit more lenient. And again, that’s because we don’t really want to ever be disconnecting customers, that’s not a way for us to build strong partnerships with our customers in our community. But it’s a necessary tool in the toolbox, and sometimes we bring it up.
Is there anything else that you would like to mention that we haven’t talked about?
I would just repeat what I said in the beginning, which is we, being the employees of Tampa Electric, we are really proud of the, of the cleaner, greener company that we are becoming. We are committed to continuously improving the relationship we have with our customers, to continue to invest in renewable energy and moving away from solid fuel, driving down our greenhouse gas emissions at a pace customers can afford.
We take the responsibility we have as a provider of an essential service very seriously. We know how critical our product is to the comfort of the everyday lives of our customers and there’s a responsibility that comes with that, that our employees embrace. The employees are just so committed to the customers and the community and it is a privilege to be the president and CEO of this company.