State to Weigh New North Florida Power Plant


With the utility industry continuing toward increased use of natural gas to fuel power plants, an electric cooperative has started seeking a key state approval to build a new plant in Northeast Florida.

Seminole Electric Cooperative, Inc., filed a proposal last week with the state Department of Environmental Protection to build a 1,050-megawatt natural-gas plant north of Palatka in Putnam County, according to documents posted on the state Division of Administrative Hearings website. The plant would replace one of two 650-megawatt coal-fired plants operating at the site.

Tampa-based Seminole Electric Cooperative provides wholesale power to nine electric cooperatives throughout the state, stretching from Talquin Electric Cooperative in areas around Tallahassee to Glades Electric Cooperative in South Central Florida.

Seminole announced plans for the new Putnam County plant in September, and the filing last week seeks “site certification” under a state law known as the Florida Electrical Power Plant Siting Act. The Department of Environmental Protection sent the proposal to the Division of Administrative Hearings, where an administrative law judge will hold hearings on the proposal.

In announcing the project in September, Seminole said the new plant is part of an effort to “diversify Seminole’s portfolio of energy sources,” with the effort including a reduced reliance on coal and increased solar power.

Seminole CEO and General Manager Lisa D. Johnson said at the time that the plan is a “balanced approach that will let us generate power more competitively with natural gas, while managing the risk and unpredictability of potential future policy changes relating to carbon emissions associated with coal.”

The decision to build a natural-gas plant is part of a broader trend in Florida’s utility industry, as natural gas has been relatively cheap and as power-plant operators have faced pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Florida Power & Light, for example, is seeking approvals for a new Dania Beach plant that would be one in a series of FPL projects in recent years to build natural-gas plants and shut down older facilities. That has included projects at Cape Canaveral, Riviera Beach, Port Everglades and in Okeechobee County. Also, Duke Energy is building a natural-gas plant at Crystal River.

But the move toward natural-gas plants has drawn some concerns that the state will become over-reliant on the fuel. During an October hearing on a nuclear-power issue, for instance, Florida Public Service Commission member Gary Clark said the state’s “current dependence on natural gas is extremely alarming to me.”

Construction of the Seminole plant would start in 2019 or early 2020, with completion about three years later, according to the documents filed at the Division of Administrative Hearings.

By JIM SAUNDERS
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

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