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Fla. judge recommends allowing TECO's Big Bend plant to run on more gas

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Fla. judge recommends allowing TECO's Big Bend plant to run on more gas

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Tampa Electric announced its plans to upgrade the Big Bend Generating Station to produce more natural gas in 2018.
Source: Tampa Electric

A Florida administrative judge recommends that the state approve Tampa Electric Co.'s application to retire one of the Big Bend Generating Station's units and repower another one with a new combined-cycle natural gas generator.

Judge Francine M. Ffolkes filed a May 30 recommended order with the state's Division of Administrative Hearings recommending that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet, who serve as a state siting board to determine approval of power plant projects, give Tampa Electric the green light to produce more gas at Big Bend in Hillsborough County, Fla.

Tampa Electric wants to retire unit 2, a 445.5-MW co-firing coal and natural gas unit, by 2021 and replace unit 1 with a 1,090-MW gas-fired generator slated to be in partial operations by 2021 and fully online by 2023.

"Repowered Unit 1 would utilize the cleanest fuels and the latest, most efficient technology available to generate electric power," Ffolkes wrote in the order. "Existing infrastructure is available at the site to support operations, and there would be sophisticated controls and continuous monitoring systems providing operational safeguards and minimizing environmental impacts to the area."

Sierra Club, which filed to intervene in the proceedings, has opposed Tampa Electric's natural gas upgrades for Big Bend since the utility announced the plans in 2018. The advocacy group argues that Tampa Electric should not claim a benefit for reducing emissions by switching to natural gas because the company already decided to stop using coal at units 1 and 2 prior to filing with the state.

"There's no excuse … to expand the use of fracked gas and recommit to burning coal when solar resources are abundant, and when the science is clear that Florida must stop burning dirty, dangerous fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of climate change," Susannah Randolph, senior representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Florida, said in a March 6 statement.

Scott Balfour, the CEO of Tampa Electric parent Emera Inc., said during the company's May 10 conference call that the $850 million investment will reduce emissions from Big Bend by about 30% and save customers $750 million over the investment's lifetime. He added that the upgrades will help provide backup for Emera's Florida solar generation program, including the 20-MW Big Bend Solar (Apollo Solar) project at the site.

"A modernized Big Bend will help to improve system reliability and support future investment in even more renewables," Balfour said.