Florida's electric utilities are continuing to lose customers and are delaying construction of new electric plants as less electricity is being used, according to a report approved Wednesday by the Florida Public Service Commission.
The report could play a role in the debate over new nuclear plants in the state and the economic viability of renewable energy in the future. Critics say new nuclear plants planned by Florida Power & Light Co. in Miami-Dade County and by Progress Energy in Levy County are not needed because of declining energy use and the potential savings of energy conservation.
The PSC on Wednesday approved an annual staff review of 10-year site plans submitted by 11 utilities, including FPL and Progress Energy. The approved plan will be submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as required by Florida law.
For the second year in a row, utilities reported slow or negative growth in customers, according to the report. The reduced energy use equals 1,500 megawatts of peak summer demand -- about the size of two coal-fired power plants.
As a result, Tampa Electric Co. now is the only utility planning a new power plant within the next 10 years that is large enough to require PSC approval. That's a 970-megawatt natural gas plant that is planned in Polk County.
The utilities' 10-year plans call for an additional 5,600 megawatts of natural gas-fired power generation, down from 11,000 megawatts forecast in the 2009 plans. Those new nuclear plants are planned beyond the 10-year planning time frame, according to the PSC review.
An additional 734 megawatts of renewable energy projects are planned through 2019, with slightly more than half coming from biomass plants that burn wood, agricultural waste or garbage.
Biomass energy production grew by 4.2 percent from 2009 to 2010, but the forecasted increase over the next 10 years has declined since the 2009 review. That's because Progress Energy in 2010 canceled two biomass projects totaling 100 megawatts, according to the PSC. The utility told the Florida Tribune it canceled in September two contracts totaling 80 megawatts because project deadlines were not met.
A Progress Energy spokeswoman said the utility is waiting until it goes through the federal licensing process to determine whether the new 2,200-megawatt nuclear power plant in Levy County still is needed. That process is expected to be completed in 2012.
"At that point we are going to look at the plant and all the factors that go into that project and decide how we will move forward with the project," spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. "We still have that decision ahead of us."
(Photo of Turkey Point power plant provided by Florida Power & Light Co.. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.)