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Sierra Club cautions regulators about too much dependency on natural gas

Florida needs to take a look at its increasing dependency on natural gas as the primary fuel to run its electricity plants, a Sierra Club representative told the Florida Public Service Commission Wednesday.

The commission received the input during an informal session about the state’s power needs over the next decade.

As the nation’s natural gas industry moves forward with exports, Florida, with minimal natural gas production, could find itself competing with foreign countries for natural gas, and increased prices, said Diana Csank, a Sierra Club attorney.

“Natural gas is a risky and bad deal for Florida,” Csank said.

Florida Power & Light Co., which is in the midst of modernizing its Riviera Beach and Port Everglades plants to run completely on natural gas, says the fuel is clean, inexpensive, abundant and produced domestically. This spring it started up a 100 percent natural gas power plant at Cape Canaveral.

Csank called for the commission to give greater consideration to solar power.

FPL owns and operates three solar plants and cannot increase its solar presence in Florida without action by the Florida Legislature. The PSC must approve the least expensive type of electric power plant to construct, and solar is not the cheapest.

Stacy Dochoda, CEO and president of the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, said that for the next 10 years, the state has a reserve margin of more than 20 percent in its capacity to produce electricity.

By 2022, energy production from natural gas is expected to increase 13 percent, Dochoda said. Although the volume will be greater, natural gas is projected to make up 62 percent of the fuel mix during peak demand in the summer, just 1 percent more than this year. The other fuels are oil, coal, nuclear, hydro and renewables such as solar.

Dochoda said that by 2017 the state’s natural gas pipelines will be at 96 percent capacity.

FPL has submitted plans to build a third major natural gas pipeline system close to 600 miles long and costing $3.5 billion. The PSC is scheduled to vote on the pipeline on Oct. 24.

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