Tampa Electric (TECO), and its law firm have made political contributions to members of the Florida Power Plant Siting Board in the lead-up to tomorrow’s vote to approve the company’s controversial new natural gas plant. The Power Plant Siting Board is responsible for the final approval of TECO’s gas plant.

TECO plans to switch its Big Bend Power Station from coal to natural gas and begin operation in 2023. The project features a seawall to protect the fossil fuel plant from the effects of climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels. 

TECO and its law firm, Holland & Knight, have contributed $60,000 to members of the Power Plant Siting Board in 2019. The Board is made up of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried. 

The governor’s vote is weighted; his vote plus just one other vote will approve the project. TECO contributed $25,000 to DeSantis two months ago. 

Contributions to Siting Board Members in 2019

Friends of Ashley Moody (PAC)01/02/2019HOLLAND & KNIGHT, LLP$10,000
Florida Consumers First (PAC)
(Note: Associated with Commissioner Nikki Fried)
01/14/2019TECO ENERGY, INC. $25,000
Friends of Ron DeSantis (PAC)  05/22/2019TECO ENERGY, INC. $25,000

Source: Florida Division of Elections

TECO and Holland & Knight also contributed $235,000 to the political parties and their allied campaign funds. The vast majority of TECO’s party-related contributions have gone to Republicans.

Florida Democratic Party1/4/19$10,000HOLLAND & KNIGHT
Republican Party of Florida1/2/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee1/24/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Democratic Party1/24/19$5,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Republican Party of Florida1/25/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Democratic Party2/5/19$5,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Republican Party of Florida2/8/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee2/19/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee2/19/19$25,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign2/20/19$15,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee6/13/19$20,000TECO ENERGY, INC.
Republican Party of Florida6/28/19$30,000TECO ENERGY, INC.

Source: Florida Division of Elections

TECO has claimed that it must build the new gas plant in order to accommodate new solar energy. In an interview with WMNF, TECO Vice President Tom Hernandez said, “I will tell you if we were not doing the Big Bend modernization project we could not add more solar to our system. There’s a point where you start bumping up into operating constraints …”

In 2018, only 0.6% of TECO’s energy came from solar while 78% came from natural gas. The new plant will further increase TECO’s overreliance on natural gas. 

Source: TECO 2019 10 Year Site Plan

The Sierra Club and other local groups have opposed the plant. TECO has avoided a review of its plan by the Florida Public Service Commission, which traditionally has the authority to approve or deny new power plants, by arguing that because the site had previously burnt coal, the plant is not “new.”  “Their [TECO] position is that no one should review whether that’s even needed,” Sierra Club representative Diana Csank said to the Tampa Bay Times. 

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor wrote a letter to the Power Plant Siting Board on July 19, urging DeSantis and the other members to weigh all considerations, especially whether the plant was needed at all. She cited two examples in other states with Republican governors and utility regulators, Northern Indiana Public Service Company and the Georgia Public Service Commission, as pathways for Florida to increase renewable energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels. 

Castor is the chair of the Select Committee on Climate Crisis. 

The Power Plant Siting Board meeting will be live-streamed as part of the Governor’s cabinet meeting tomorrow, July 25. It can be viewed live on the Florida Channel at 9:00 AM Eastern.

Photo source: Wikipedia

Posted by Daniel Tait

Daniel Tait is a Research and Communication Manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Prior to joining EPI, he was CEO of Energy Alabama, a non-profit advocacy organization. Daniel was named the 2015 International Young Energy Professional of the Year by the Association of Energy Engineers and acts as Vice President of the Association of Energy Engineers, Huntsville Chapter. He graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a degree in International Trade and Foreign Language.