Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A puzzling decision on Florida energy

Some of my greener friends will be cheering the Public Service Commission's 4-0 vote denying a request to build a coal-fired power plant on the west side of Lake Okeechobee. I'm puzzled, though, by the reasoning of Commissioner Matthew Carter II that the price of coal is too uncertain to make a coal plant a wise choice for Florida Power & Light Co. According to FPL, it proposed coal for the 1,960-megawatt plant near Moore Haven as an alternative to natural gas, which is already costly and subject to great price fluctuations. FPL is too reliant on natural gas anyway, in my opinion.

Coal does have an awful reputation, partly a legacy from the sooty smokestack past and partly due to the mountaintop-removal present. FPL did promise that the Glades plant would be the cleanest-burning coal plant in the country, and that is plausible given innovations during the past decade or two.

What killed the plant, though the commissioners seemed not confident enough to say it, was probably concern about mercury falling onto the lake and the Everglades from the plant's smoke. The amount of mercury seems negligible to me, but I really need to do some research on that. I certainly don't want to poison the fish or the people who eat them, so until I learn more I won't say the PSC vote was wrong. There's more on the Everglades angle, and the natural gas, in the Miami Herald.

An interesting sidelight was that the newest PSC member, Nancy Argenziano, sat out Tuesday's debate and vote. That surprised me because, during her six years in the Florida Senate, this Dunnellon Republican was an avid follower of public utility issues. She sought the PSC appointment by Gov. Charlie Crist, and when she got the job in April called herself a "quick study." Not all that quick, it would seem. Here's my hunch: She knew where the decision was going, and reasoned that a minority vote would do her no good.

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