Tampa, Fla.-Based Utility to Spend $300 Million to Slash Pollution

Tampa Electric Co. said Thursday it will spend $300 million to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at its Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.

Jan. 14—Tampa Electric Co. said Thursday it will spend $300 million to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at its Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach.

The move marks the latest chapter in the Tampa utility's efforts to meet the conditions of an air pollution settlement reached with the state Department of Environmental Protection in 1999 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2000. The parties negotiated a settlement after the utility was sued for repeated violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

Tampa Electric said it will begin work this year to install air-cleaning devices on Big Bend's four coal-fired generating units, which have a combined output of more than 1,800 megawatts. By the time the project is completed in 2010, nitrogen oxide emissions at the plant are expected to be 80 percent below 1998 levels. Work will proceed in stages, with the first generating unit to be outfitted by June 1, 2007, and the last unit to be done by May 2010.

The Florida Public Service Commission allows investor-owned utilities to pass on the cost of environmental compliance programs to customers. As a result, the Big Bend project will result in increases in monthly customer bills.

The company doesn't know what the total effect will be on rates, but the first rate increase stemming from the Big Bend project will probably appear in 2007 and will amount to about 20 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity consumed per month, spokesman Ross Bannister said. Tampa Electric charges residential customers $98.07 for 1,000 kilowatt hours, the highest rate of any Florida investor-owned utility.

According to the Florida Public Interest Research Group, Big Bend was the second-largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions among Florida's power plants in 2003. (Progress Energy Florida's Crystal River power complex topped the list.)

Under the terms of the settlement with the EPA and the state DEP, Tampa Electric agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine and spend about $1 billion to reduce emissions at its power plants.

The first step was the company's 2003 shutdown of coal-fired generating units at its former Gannon power station near Hillsborough Bay to convert the facility to the use of cleaner-burning natural gas.

Tampa Electric could have opted to convert coal-fired Big Bend to natural-gas use, but the company concluded last year that outfitting Big Bend's coal units with pollution control devices would be the most cost-effective means of meeting the settlement's air quality standards.

Bannister also noted that converting Big Bend to natural gas use would have left the company too heavily dependent on a single fuel source. Continuing to power Big Bend with coal will enable the company to maintain a fuel mix that is roughly half natural gas and half coal.

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© 2005, St. Petersburg Times, Fla. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.