Florida power plant projects get key backing

(Paul Courson/CNN)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Turning aside objections from the Sierra Club, an administrative law judge Monday recommended that Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet approve a plan by Florida Power & Light to build a new power plant in Broward County.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued an order Friday giving approval to a plan by Seminole Electric Cooperative to build a plant in Putnam County.

FPL and Seminole Electric Cooperative plan to build natural gas-fired plants at sites that already house generating units. Both projects also have received crucial sign-offs --- known as determinations of need --- from the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates electric utilities.

Administrative Law Judge Cathy Sellers on Monday issued a 129-page recommended order that urged Scott and the Cabinet to approve “certification” of FPL’s plan for a 1,200-megawatt plant in Dania Beach. Under state law, Scott and the Cabinet serve as a siting board that has final say in disputes about whether power-plant projects should move forward.

FPL intends to build the new plant while tearing down two generating units at the Broward County site. The Sierra Club has raised a series of objections to the project, focusing heavily on greenhouse-gas emissions that would come from the new plant. The environmental group has sought denial of the certification or, as an alternative, to have a series of conditions placed on the plant.

But Sellers rejected the Sierra Club’s arguments. For example, she wrote that the new plant would be more efficient than the older units it would replace. She acknowledged that the new plant might not reduce emissions at the Broward site because it would be used more than the older units, but she said it would help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions across FPL’s broader system.

“(The) competent, credible evidence showed that the operation of Unit 7 (the new plant) will reduce GHG emissions across FPL's electrical power generating system because it will be operated more often than other, less efficient units, thereby displacing the use of those units across FPL's electrical power generation system,” Sellers wrote. “Stated another way, because Unit 7 will be a significantly more efficient electrical power generating unit --- meaning that it will produce more electricity per cubic foot of natural gas than FPL's less efficient units --- it will be operated more frequently than FPL's less efficient units, resulting in reduced consumption of natural gas on a system-wide basis.”

Sellers’ recommended order came three days after Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein signed a final order approving certification of the Seminole Electric Cooperative plant in Putnam County. Valenstein had the authority to sign the order without the issue going to the governor and Cabinet because the project was not contested before an administrative law judge.

Seminole Electric Cooperative, which supplies electricity to cooperatives throughout the state, plans to build a natural-gas plant and tear down one of two smaller coal-fired plants at the Putnam County site. While Valenstein approved the certification, the Public Service Commission’s approval of a determination of need for the Putnam County project drew legal challenges last month. Those challenges are pending at the Florida Supreme Court, according to court dockets.