Coal plant proposal stirs area emotions

Although the state of Florida has decided to build a new coal plant near Taylor County, the issue has created controversy.

Some Floridians have questioned the possible effects of the coal plant on the environment and federal regulations.

Beka Martin, a Clear Air Coalition advocate, said she believes city officials didn’t adequately analyze the future effects of the coal plant.

“The city is using our tax dollars to promote the plant, but they are not talking about the increased cost or the pollution,” Martin said.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States.

If exposed at high levels, mercury can cause brain, heart, kidney and immune malfunctions.

Mercury, a natural occurring element found in air, water, coal and soil converts into methyl mercury, which is commonly found in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish.

Richard Gragg, FAMU associate director of Environmental Science Institute is also against the possible environmental effects of the coal plant. may be detrimental to those who “do a lot of fishing out of lakes and streams,” those who consume a lot of fish, and Floridians who are exposed to mercury emissions from the plant at high levels.

But not everyone is against the coal plant.

Mike McCain, North Florida Power Plant (NFPP) Public Affairs Manager, said he believes the plant is greatly needed because Tallahassee’s demand for energy continues to increase.

“We will serve Florida’s growth in electric demands by using coal to make more electricity,” he said.

McCain said the NFPP will be one of the cleanest plants in Florida.

The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) also issues regulations that require industries to reduce mercury releases to air and water.

City Commissioner Debbie Lightsey said the plant is expected to only have a one percent impact on the air, and safeguards will remove 90 percent of mercury from plant wastes.

Kevin Wailes, general manager of Tallahassee Electric Utility, told the Tallahassee Democrat that the coal project would only satisfy local power needs until 2014 or 2015.

Gragg questioned whether electricity bills will decline or climb to pay the construction costs of the coal plant.

The possible effects on the Fenholloway River, which is near the projected coal plant, also concerns Gragg.

According to Tallahassee Democrat, Mike Lawson said the location of the plant near the river is ideal because of access to rail lines and water. The plant is expected to bring in permanent jobs and serve people nationwide, but Lawson said the permit process might last two years because of the “thorough process that we have to go through.”

There are other utilities in Florida adding coal plants, such as the Florida Power Light and Seminole Electric in Palatka.

Joy Ezell, a Taylor County citizen, doesn’t expect the government agencies to continue to do their job of regulating the power plant.

“Government regulations won’t happen until we get the polluters’ money out of the election campaign,” Ezell said.

Although, the partnership will give the city of Tallahassee the opportunity to diversify, local advocates say the city hasn’t explored all available options.

City Commissioner Alan Katz was the only commissioner against the coal plant. He suggested other options to the coal plant, such as purchasing power through other utilities, investing in a Coal Gasification Plant or creating a financial program to replicate the effort of a diversified fuel mix.

If the city of Tallahassee partners with NFPP, the city can share power and voice their opinions.

Contact Jequisha Williams at