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Opinions Vary On Converting TECO's Big Bend Power Plant From Coal

Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Solar Panels line the manatee viewing area next to TECO's Big Bend power plant

The biggest coal-burning power plant in Florida may soon switch partially to natural gas. TECO says it's part of a move to cleaner energy, but some groups that aren't backing the switch plan to attend a public hearing Monday night in Riverview.

Tampa Electric plans to convert one of its four generating units at the Big Bend power station on Tampa Bay to natural gas. And they'll close another unit.  

"It is part of Tampa Electric becoming cleaner and greener. It is a step toward moving away from coal," says TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. "It will significantly reduce emissions by more than 60 percent for those two units. And we're cutting our use of coal in half at the site."

This week, a public hearing is being held by an administrative law judge, who will then have 45 days to make a decision. The final decision on converting the plant is up to the governor and cabinet. But several groups plan are opposed, saying TECO should switch instead to renewable energy.

"Tampa is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change and sea level rise, yet TECO wants to make them worse," said a statement from the advocacy group Organize Florida. "It's time for TECO to make a far greater investment in renewable energy. We don't need another fracked gas plant in Tampa Bay."

Opponents plan to speak at a public hearing, which begins at 6 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 4328 Garden Vista Dr., Riverview.

But Jacobs says by 2021, the utility will have completed work on 10 solar power generating stations.

"By 2021, when this expansion is complete, seven percent of Tampa Electric's energy will be generated from the sun," she said. "That is the highest percentage of any utility in Florida."

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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