Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Tampa Electric Co. is taking a big step away from coal. The Tampa-based utility is spending $853 million to convert its coal-fired Unit 1 at its Big Bend Power Station to natural gas and retire coal-fired Unit 2 in 2021.
Five workers died in June 2017 after performing a known-to-be-dangerous maintenance procedure on Unit 2. The incident resulted in a $126,749 fine from federal regulators and a “willful” designation for safety violations found following an investigation. Tampa Electric is currently appealing the designation. According to Tampa Electric spokesperson Cherie Jacobs, the June incident was not the primary reason for closing Unit 2.
Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower cited a plan to rely less on coal shortly after she took the helm at the utility at the beginning of the year. The changes at Big Bend dovetail with that strategy.
“Coupled with our significant increase in solar power, these changes will make Tampa Electric substantially cleaner and greener than it is today,” Tower said in a release Thursday. “This investment in cleaner generation will also provide significant savings to customers through lower expenses for fuel and maintenance of the existing units.”
After the revamp, Big Bend will still have two units that operate on coal with natural gas as their secondary source of power, Jacobs said. The natural gas unit will be able to produce 1,090 megawatts.