Perhaps South Floridians were shocked to see the striped smokestacks of the Port Everglades power plant demolished to rubble on the morning of July 16, 2013. After half a century of being a local landmark and being criticized as a major source of pollution, the four smokestacks of this oil-burning plant went from 350 feet to zero in minutes. Just in case you weren’t glued to the Ft. Lauderdale skyline at dawn, Florida Power & Light kindly streamed a live video of the destruction on its website. It’s all part of a $1.2 billion plan to replace the aging facility with a new, state-of-the-art natural gas plant on the existing site by 2016.
Florida Power & Light claims that the natural gas plant will cut both carbon dioxide and total emissions by 90 percent while saving utility customers approximately $400 million over the next three decades. According to FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz, the savings come from using a cheaper fuel, but the utility will also avoid the expense of upgrading old equipment and installing costly controls to meet what it expects will be increasingly stringent federal pollution standards.
The destruction of Port Everglades is part of a nationwide trend to close obsolete coal-burning facilities and just one of 175 plants being retired over the next three years. Saying goodbye to so much dirty energy seems like progress…at least on the surface. But, is it enough…especially for Florida.
Florida’s environmental activists have voiced concern that the replacement plant is too little too late as natural gas emissions (cleaner than coal) still cause climate change. Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, told National Geographic that methane in natural gas is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Even a seemingly small amount of leakage "from the wellhead all the way along the pipeline" could end up having a major greenhouse impact, he said. Plus, natural gas is only cheaper at the moment due hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, which is a practice that many experts say could contaminate groundwater amongst other things.
So, what options do we have left? Well, local activists like Schwartz share the desire to see an increased focus on solar energy. Fun fact: According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida ranks third in the nation for solar potential, but only tenth in installed capacity.