New power plants get key state approval

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Proposed power plants in Putnam and Pasco counties got support Tuesday from state regulators who also expressed concerns about Florida’s continuing increased reliance on natural gas to generate electricity.

The Florida Public Service Commission unanimously backed “determinations of need” for a 1,122-megawatt plant in Putnam County proposed by Seminole Electric Cooperative, Inc., and a 573-megawatt plant in Pasco County proposed by Seminole Electric and Shady Hills Energy Center, LLC.

Seminole Electric, which provides wholesale electricity to cooperatives throughout the state, envisions the new plants coming online as its shutters an existing coal-fire unit in Putnam County, a move it contends will eventually create savings to customers of more than $363 million.

While approving the plans, commissioners expressed a need to be more cognizant of Florida’s increasing dependence on natural gas for its energy needs.

Commissioner Donald Polmann said regulators might need to take a wider view of the state’s energy sources, rather than tackling the issue on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not saying that going to gas in this case is a negative,” Polmann said, noting the plan to retire a coal-fired plant and the advantages of cheaper natural gas.

“But I do believe that in the larger picture there can be some concerns about further consolidation to natural gas, looking at the fleet of electric generation across the state,” Polmann continued. “It may be appropriate for the commission to consider that, in the larger picture.”

Natural gas accounts for more than 62 percent of the state’s energy production, with coal at 17 percent, nuclear 14 percent and renewables such as solar topping 3 percent.

“It is a concern as we get closer and closer to 70 percent natural gas,” agreed Commission Chairman Art Graham, who said the current lower price of natural gas made Tuesday’s approval “the prudent thing to do.”

Receiving determinations of need are key approvals for the new facilities, which are expected to begin operating in Pasco County in December 2021 and Putnam County in December 2022. Seminole Electric contends the new facilities are the most cost-effective way to meet the future energy needs of customers of cooperatives.

“Natural-gas fired generation, the new technology we are looking at, is state of the art,” Seminole Electric CEO Lisa Johnson said. “It is going to allow us, in essence, to produce more energy for the same input. It’s much cleaner and much more cost- effective for our members.”

Johnson added that members will see “lower costs over time.”

Quantum Pasco Power, which owns an already-existing plant in Pasco County, had argued the plants are not needed and would not be as cost-effective as backers of the projects claim.

Commission staff, in its recommendation, wrote that with the expiration of existing power purchase agreements the new plants would maintain the “reliability and integrity” of the electric system for cooperatives.


News Service of Florida Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this story.