As President Bush's Clear Skies legislation was being discussed by a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday, a state environmental group released data suggesting that more than 60 percent of Florida power plants have increased harmful emissions in the past decade.
Jan. 27As President Bush's Clear Skies legislation was being discussed by a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday, a state environmental group released data suggesting that more than 60 percent of Florida power plants have increased harmful emissions in the past decade.
The Tallahassee-based Florida Public Interest Research Institute's "Pollution on the Rise" study identified Florida Power & Light Co.'s Manatee plant as having the eighth-highest increase in sulfur dioxide output and the 10th-highest increase in carbon dioxide emissions from 1995 through 2003.
But despite pollution increases at more than half of Florida power plants and a huge upsurge in population, the study showed overall plant emissions statewide went down during the same period.
Nonetheless, PIRG is concerned about the 60 percent of plants that are worsening.
"There are a fairly significant number of power plants that didn't have reductions, and increased emissions," said Holly Binns, PIRG's field director. "This means there's a greater effect on local communities. Health impacts are more severe within a 30-mile radius of power plants."
According to PIRG, there are more than 28,000 asthma attacks, 21,000 heart attacks and 1,400 premature deaths directly related to power plant pollution in Florida each year.
Manatee County's air quality is about as good as exists in a developed, economically prospering community, said Karen Collins-Fleming, the county's director of environmental management.
"In a society that has air conditioning, cars and trucks and smoke stacks, we're pretty good," she said. "But we can be better and that's why we're here."
FPL's Manatee plant is in Parrish. It's comprised of two 800-megawatt units built in the 1970s. They predominantly burn oil but in 2003 got a $3.4 million makeover that allows them to burn a percentage of natural gas. FPL this summer plans to turn on the $560 million Unit 3 plant it's building next to Units 1 and 2. It will burn 100 percent natural gas and uses the latest in environmental technologies. But as a base-loaded plant operating almost 24 hours a day, the 1,100 megawatts it generates will increase the overall amount of pollution released from the Parrish site.
FPL is investing $32 million in reburn technology for Units 1 and 2. The emission-control measure is scheduled for a 2006 or 2007 completion.
The PIRG report says that the Manatee plant produced 863,320 more tons of carbon dioxide and 2,657 more tons of sulfur dioxide soot in 2003 than in 1995.
FPL officials say the figures are misleading because they look strictly at overall tonnage without taking into account population growth and increased plant efficiency.
"Overall pollution is down and we have increased the amount of electricity we produce by 28 percent," said FPL spokeswoman Kathy Scott.
Because Units 1 and 2 in Parrish burn primarily oil, they're going to have a higher sulfur content than a natural gas plant. FPL often chooses to burn more oil or purchase power from coal-generated plants when the cost of natural gas reaches a certain price.
"It's part of our fuel diversity efforts to mitigate cost for our customers," she said.
PIRG released the study as air-quality legislation it considers critical is being discussed in Washington. Binns said passage of the legislation would allow older, dirtier plants to pollute for a longer period of time.
Binns said it's critical to Florida's future that state leaders take seriously the issue of air quality and make strides to promote and produce more energy-saving appliances and clean energy sources, such as solar power.
"We certainly expect a big increase in electricity demand," she said. "We all have a responsibility to make sure we're putting Florida on the right path."
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