By Bruce Ritchie
Florida's top environmental official is praising Progress Energy for an agreement with the state to retire two coal-fired power plants at its Crystal River plant after another proposed nuclear plant has been operating, possibly in 2020. But a leading environmentalist is only giving the agreement a B-plus grade because it doesn't promote renewable energy.
The two coal plants have been operating since the 1960s. Removing them from service would reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 830,000 vehicles, according to Progress Energy.
"This agreement will help us deliver on our promise to reduce emissions without sacrificing reliable and affordable electric service," Jeff Lyash, president and CEO of Progress Florida, said in a statement issued by the company.
Progress Florida has filed a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the proposed new nuclear plant on 5,000 acres in southern Levy County, about 10 miles north of the company's Crystal River complex. That's where the company has four coal-fired units and one nuclear units.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a statement praising the agreement to remove the older coal-fired units. DEP says it is working with the company to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from the newer coal-fired units at Crystal River that were built in the 1980s.
"By combining the ethic of good stewardship and the spirit of innovation, we will continue to improve the quality of our air and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," DEP Secretary Michael Sole said.
Gerald Karnas, Florida climate project director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the agreement will remove two of the nation's dirtiest coal plants and help protect against climate change. But he said Progress Energy should replace them with solar, wind and wave energy projects rather than nuclear.
"Retiring those (coal) plants is a big win for our planet," Karnas said. "But it's a draw in that Progress Energy is not replacing the power with renewable energy. They are banking on a risky strategy of building nucealr power plants at tremendous cost to consumers."