SOUTH SHORE: Upgrades for TECO

Published on: June 7, 2018

TECO plans upgrades for Big Bend plant


Tampa Electric Company is modernizing its Unit 1 at the Big Bend Power Station to use natural gas, instead of coal. The move will take tons of pollutants out of the air around the Apollo Beach plant.

In an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and run its Big Bend Power Station more efficiently, Tampa Electric Company is modernizing one of its units  to run on natural gas instead of coal. It is also removing one of its iconic smoke stacks.

Unit 1 will get the modernization and Unit 2, in operation for 50 years, will be shut down in 2021.

“We are currently assessing Big Bend’s future staffing requirements — the total number of required employees, and the necessary skill sets,” said TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs. “Our commitment is to work with the union to ensure this transition is seamless.”

What the change won’t do is affect the manatees that visit the intake canal next to the Apollo Beach power plant, she said. The plant will still produce a warm-water outflow that attracts the large marine mammals to what has become a state tourist attraction, its Manatee Viewing Center.

“This project will improve the land, water and air emissions at Big Bend,” said Nancy Tower, president and chief executive officer of TECO. “Coupled with our significant increase in solar power, these changes will make Tampa Electric substantially cleaner and greener than it is today.”

“Emissions from Big Bend will dramatically improve,” Jacobs said. “There will be decreases of more than 5,000,200, and 1,000 tons per year in sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, respectively. Also, there will be a reduction of about 60 percent in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions from units 1 and 2.”

“This investment in a cleaner generation will also provide significant savings to customers through lower expenses for fuel and maintenance of the existing units,” Tower said.

The existing cooling system will be used for the modernization.

The $853 million project will transform Unit 1 using combined-cycle technology. It will produce 1,090 megawatts of electricity when it is completed in 2023.

The units were originally designed to burn greenhouse gas-producing coal. In recent years, TECO added natural gas as a secondary fuel for four units. This project will significantly change the fuel mix at the plant. In 2017, according to TECO, 67 percent of the utility’s energy was generated by natural gas, 24 percent from coal and 9 percent from other sources, including solar. With the plant upgrades, it will produce, by 2023, energy using 75 percent natural gas, 12 percent coal and 7 percent solar, with about 6 percent from other sources.

The most visible change to people who live in the area or drive by the plant will be the dismantling of the stack, or chimney, which serves Units 1 and 2, Jacobs said.

TECO filed an application April 18, 2018, with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to make the upgrades and expects approval by May 2019.

TECO began working on a strategy to reduce its carbon footprint in 1999 with the repowering of the former coal-fired Ganon Station to natural gas and more recently with the expansion of the Polk Power station’s natural gas units to combined cycle.

The idea is to reduce the carbon footprint of the company, while keeping customer costs within reason, TECO said in a press release.

The company also has plans to dramatically increase the amount of solar power it generates. TECO will add 6 million solar panels in 10 new photovoltaic solar projects, which would make it the Florida utility with the highest percentage of solar power by 2021.

TECO serves about 750,000 customers and is one of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities. It is a subsidiary of Emera, Inc., headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.