Clean coal seen as green alternative in Florida
St. Petersburg, Florida (Reuters) - Resistance to clean coal-fired electric-generating plants ignores an environmentally viable approach to diversifying energy sources, a Florida power company executive said on Thursday.
Mark Hornick, general manager of Tampa Electric Co's Polk County Plant, said environmental opposition recently caused the power company to defer plans to expand the Polk facility with an improved version of its existing clean-coal technology.
"It's ironic," Hornick said of the expansion originally planned to come on line in 2013. "Florida's going to be very dependent on natural gas. Coal would be an excellent way to diversify our energy supply."
With predicted strong power demand growth, Hornick said other options will have to be considered while continuing to try to persuade officials that TECO's integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plan meets environmental concerns.
The process separates out regulated pollutants, such as mercury, as well as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
Nuclear power is one alternative, but it takes many years to license and build such a plant. Another possibility is gas-fired plants, importing fuel from other states or from overseas, although Hornick said no decision has been made.
The Polk County coal plant has won awards as one of the cleanest in existence, Hornick said, but carbon dioxide is a bigger challenge than other pollutants controlled by power companies. It has to be captured and disposed of.
Tampa Electric is considering the possibility of pumping the CO2 into a saltwater aquifer 4,500 feet under the plant, Hornick said. Underground pressure would turn the gas into a fluid, reducing its volume dramatically, he said.
But there is no process for licensing that approach in Florida.
Risks associated with that kind of sequestration look reasonable, he said, but convincing neighboring landowners, the public and officials it will work is a challenge.
Another hurdle is insurance to protect against the possibility that something might go wrong with the storage system, he said.
All the uncertainties together made it impossible to go forward immediately with the Polk expansion, Hornick said.
(Reporting by Bruce Nichols; Editing by Marguerita Choy)