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Tampa Electric customers could see higher bills with proposed new EPA emissions standards

Smoke and steam rise out of the stacks at Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Station. The utility has a higher dependence on coal than Duke Energy Florida or Florida Power & Light.
Smoke and steam rise out of the stacks at Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Station. The utility has a higher dependence on coal than Duke Energy Florida or Florida Power & Light.
Published Jun. 3, 2014

Tampa Electric customers could see higher electric bills under the proposed federal emission standards for coal-fired power plants, which produced 60 percent of the utility's power in 2013.

The utility already uses several technologies to cut carbon emissions at its coal plants. Still, it expects to have to make changes in its operations that will affect the pocketbooks of its 700,000 customers.

The proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards "will further increase electricity costs for our customers," said Cherie Jacobs, a Tampa Electric spokeswoman. "It is too soon to know specifics. Coal continues to play an important part in fuel diversity and keeps prices low for all our customers."

The new rules also will affect Tampa Electric's parent company, TECO Energy, which operates coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. TECO plans to focus more of its coal usage in such "specialty markets" as steel production, rather than electricity generation.

President Barack Obama's administration announced the sweeping new emissions standards Monday to help curb pollutants blamed for climate change. The rules, outlined in a 645-page document, won't go into effect for at least a year. The goal is to cut power plants' carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Some states might emit more carbon than others under the new standards, but the goal is to cut 30 percent of the combined total carbon emissions from coal plants.

Florida already has made significant strides toward reducing coal plant emissions.

The Georgetown Climate Center at the Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., notes in its review of Florida's electricity production that the Sunshine State cut its carbon emissions 15 percent between 2005 and 2012. Electricity produced from coal dropped about 40 percent during that period.

The state now produces about 60 percent of its electricity using natural gas, which still emits carbon, but not as much as most coal plants.

Ted Kury, director of the University of Florida's Public Utility Research Center, said he found in his review of the EPA proposal that the guidelines also allow utilities to maintain current levels of coal-fired electricity production if they increase generation from cleaner sources, such as solar or nuclear.

But no matter what steps are taken, utilities such as Tampa Electric could be forced to raise rates to execute the EPA's proposal.

"Any deviation from business as usual is going to require the utility to raise its costs," Kury said.

Tampa Electric depends more on coal than the state's two bigger investor owned utilities, Duke Energy Florida and Florida Power & Light.

Duke only used coal for about 26 percent of the electricity it generated in 2013. Duke also already plans to close two of its four coal units at the Crystal River power station in Citrus County in 2018 and replace them and its shuttered nuclear plant with a natural gas facility.

The Crystal River station's coal units 1 and 2 are among the nation's dirtiest polluters and have been a target of environmentalists for closure. Crystal River units 4 and 5 have scrubbers that reduce carbon emissions.

"Today, we applaud President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for their move to clean up our air, improve the health of our children and curb the worst effects of climate disruption," said Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director of the Sierra Club, which has been campaigning for the closure of the coal units at Crystal River. "These life-saving protections could not come at a more critical time."

FPL shares ownership of two coal-fired power plants but does not have sole ownership of any. Coal currently makes up just over 5 percent of FPL's electricity production.

Almost a quarter of FPL's electricity generation comes from its four nuclear units, further reducing the utility's need for coal.

"We pride ourselves on having one of the cleanest fleets in the country," said Mark Bubriski, an FPL spokesman. "We have been investing in clean energy for well over a decade now."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

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