TECO coal to natural gas conversion approved

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TALLAHASSEE Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - To the dismay of environmental groups, the Governor and Cabinet have approved a power plant project for the Tampa region.

Tampa Electric Company wants to reduce its carbon emissions by closing a coal unit at its Big Bend power station and converting another to more efficiently burning natural gas. (MGN)

Tampa Electric Company wants to reduce its carbon emissions by closing a coal unit at its Big Bend power station and converting another to more efficiently burning natural gas.

"It's a step toward moving away from coal,” said TECO attorney Larry Curtin while making the case for the project before the Governor and Cabinet Thursday.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, oppose the plan, arguing natural gas is often collected through fracking.

“TECO also wants public money, billions of dollars for its power plants to burn coal and fracked gas when there is no need to burn dirty fossil fuels,” said Sierra Club attorney Diana Csank.

With only one no vote from Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat on the cabinet, the plan was approved.

Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Hillsborough County native, said the decision wasn’t easy.

“This will significantly reduce the harmful effects to the environment,” said Moody.

Governor Ron DeSantis said he believes the move toward natural gas is ultimately an improvement over coal.

“If you approve this, you have lower emissions. I mean, that's just the fact,” said DeSantis.

But some, like Brian Lee with Rethink Energy Florida, argue methane, the primary fuel source for natural gas plants, is equally problematic.

“There are leaks at every point in the process that are equivalent to the CO2 emissions of all coal that is burned in the country,” said Lee.

While TECO representatives said the company has long term plans to increase its use of solar to generate energy, it also said the plans aren’t finalized.

The power plant conversion is set to be completed in 2023, but members of the Sierra Club we spoke with said they’re considering appealing the ruling in state court.

The projected cost of the project comes in at $853 million. Estimates suggest the change will increase Tampa Electric’s energy output from natural gas from 67 percent to 75 percent.