Coal plant issue divides citizens

In an effort to inform the community about the North Florida Power Project, Pastor Calvin McFadden, the Rev. John Green and Mayor Pro-Tem Andrew Gillum hosted an informational meeting Monday at Pineview Elementary School.

During the meeting Gillum said: “The coal plant will be built whether Leon County participates or not. The question is, 30 miles from our doorstep, whether we’ll be involved.”

Gillum said he wanted to have the meeting on the south side of the city because many times the people of the south side are not properly informed.

They discussed NFPP, a coal-fired power plant that is currently being built in Taylor County. The projected completion date of the plant is 2012.

The purpose of the meeting was to help people decide whether to support the plant.

“This is an informational meeting to lay out both sides of the issue,” said Gillum, a FAMU alumnus.

Gillum said the City of Tallahassee Utilities runs off of oil and natural gases, the same gas that goes into vehicles, but coal is four to five times cheaper.

He said he couldn’t predict that utility bills will decrease in the future if City of Tallahassee changes to coal.

“I hesitate saying that because in 2012, I cannot predict what natural gas and coal will be worth,” Gillum said. “Natural gas costs about four to five times as much as coal. All I can say is look at the numbers today and make a rational decision.”

During Monday’s meeting, in which Gillum presided, officials from both sides of the coal plant argument gave 15-minute presentations.

Dorothy Inman-Johnson, executive director for Capital Area Community Action, was the anti-coal plant voice, while City Manager Anita Favors Thompson and Kevin Wailes, general manager of the City of Tallahassee electric utility, spoke in favor.

Inman-Johnson reminded the crowd that the option to have a coal plant built in Leon County came up in 1992 and Leon’s citizens voted against it by a 69 percent margin. Although the plant will be built, Inman-Johnson said she believes the city should explore all options.

Thompson said the decision to try to switch to coal was not an easy one. He said the city has tried to use reusable energy, solar and wind power, but Tallahassee does not have enough reusable energy to supply everyone with power.

“As your utility company, we have to make decisions that aren’t easy,” Thompson said. “We are dependant on natural gas and oil. As those prices go up, utilities will go up.”

Wailes said if the plant was online now there would be a five to seven percent rate reduction in utilities. Wailes told the audience that the plant will be cleaner than the ones used in the past.

“The new coal plant is 10 times cleaner than projects produced in the ’80s,” Wailes said. “I think this project is going to be safe, and I think it is going to be environmental.”

In contrast, Inman-Johnson mentioned that Jacksonville has been able to live off of coal power, but it is also one of the dirtiest cities and has the dirtiest air in Florida.

“Our best option is to conserve,” Inman-Johnson said. “They tell you about how cleaner they have made coal by percentages, but no one can tell you coal is clean.”

Thompson hopes FAMU students will get involved with this issue because the coal plant involves them too.

“It will affect the students of FAMU the way it will affect everyone in Tallahassee,” Thompson said. “I hope that FAMU students will take a look at this and be a part of the process.”

Delmas Barber, FAMU’s director of Community Development, also believes in bringing the issue to the community- especially FAMU students.

Barber believes FAMU students should be more involved in this issue even though they might not live in Tallahassee after they graduate, because they live here now.

The next forum meeting will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 18 at Bethel AME Church on the corner of Wahnish Way and Orange Avenue.

Contact Brandon Oliver at