It might not seem to make sense but Florida’s biggest utility Florida Power & Light (FPL) bought the 250-megawatt coal-fired Cedar Bay Generating Plant in Jacksonville, FL last year. On Dec. 31 it’s retiring the dinosaur. At the same time, roughly 224 megawatts of solar farms are coming online in the next few days or weeks. The result, $70 million in savings for FPL’s customers and presenting nearly 1 million tons of carbon emissions annually.
"Buying and shutting down old, inefficient coal plants is unprecedented in America," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL. "I'm very proud of our employees for proposing this innovative approach that's environmentally beneficial and saves customers millions of dollars.”
Certainly, it’s been rare. But as solar becomes cheaper and coal-fired power plants become more expensive to operate and maintain, it’s a trend that’s likely to grow. For instance, NV Energy proposed an early closure of the Reid Gardener coal plant, which could occur as soon as Feb. 2017—as opposed to the end of the year. Solar was producing electricity at lower costs than the coal-fired plant could. Likewise, Google announced that it would replace the coal-fired Widows Creek power plant in Alabama with a data center that will be powered entirely by renewable energy.
The utility said that it purchased the coal-fired power plant because the power-purchase agreement it signed in 1988 was no longer economical because the utility was acquiring energy at lower prices from cleaner generating sources. The utility asserted that its electric generation fleet already is cleaner than required under the 2030 carbon emissions rate goal set for Florida by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Moreover, the utility has accomplished this while maintaining bill rates for customers that are 30 percent lower than the national average.
The closure has earned it praise from environmental organizations. ”Cedar Bay is an example of FPL being one of the cleanest and most reliable electric utilities in the nation," said Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon Florida. "FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments including solar to reduce emissions while providing affordable clean energy for its customers."
The utility is continuing to invest in cleaner energy generating facilities, including increased purchases of solar power—even though the utility has fought against rooftop solar power. It’s also continuing to purchase other older, dirtier electric generators. For instance, the utility said it’s working to make a roughly $129 million purchase of another coal-fired power plant, located in Indiantown, FL. That purchase would reduce the utility’s carbon footprint further, by more than 657,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. FPL said it hopes to close that facility by the end of 2018.
The utility started investing in natural-gas generation in 2001, allowing it to cut its use of foreign oil by more than 98 percent. It said it’s cut its use oil from 40 million barrels annually to less than 1 million barrels annually. “This has saved FPL customers more than $8 billion on fuel costs and prevented more than 95 million tons of carbon emissions,” FPL stated.Tweet