Tensions rise as coal vote nears

Some say it’s about coal, others say it’s about control.

On Nov. 17, during a special election, Tallahassee voters will decide the city’s participation in the North Florida Power Project.

The NFPP, a group of public power providers, plans to build an 800-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Taylor County.

In a July meeting, city commissioners voted to join the design plan, permitting a land acquisition phase of the $1.4-billion project. Other partners include JEA, formerly the Jacksonville Electric Authority, the Florida Municipal Power Agency and Reedy Creek Improvement District.

According to the Aug. edition of Insight, the city’s monthly utility newsletter, the power plant will be built. However, the commission decided to ask city residents whether the city should move forward as a partner in the project.

Referendum ballots, mailed to city voters in late Oct., will allow voters to voice their opinions.

A “yes” vote will preserve the city’s option to partner in the plant and possibly receive power from it. A “no” vote will give Tallahassee no voice in the design or operation of the plant, nor will it benefit from the electricity it generates, says the city of Tallahassee Web site http://www.talgov.com.

Supporters of the project say if it’s going to be built 50 miles away, then Tallahassee should have control of the operations and use of the energy it will provide. They also believe the coal plant will lower utility costs for Tallahassee, which currently uses natural gas and oil.

Jennifer Battles, an online business owner and Tallahassee resident, supports the project.

“The power plant is going to be built,” said Battles, a 31-year resident of the city. “My yes vote will ensure that Tallahassee residents will have a voice.”

City Commissioner Andrew Gillum also agrees and is voting yes on the issue.

“The question on the ballot is not if a coal plant is going to be built, but if Tallahassee will receive the benefits,” Gillum said. “(The yes vote) gives the city commission the flexibility it needs to determine whether coal will be used in Tallahassee.”

Like many supporters, Gillum said the coal plant will be environmentally safe.

“Coal isn’t the same coal it was 30 years ago,” said Gillum, a FAMU graduate. “According to the proposal, (the power plant will not) have the same carbon dioxide emissions that every other coal plant in the United States has. (The plant will push) the carbon dioxide hundreds of feet below the ground surface.”

However, the opposition’s main concern is the effect a coal-fired plant will have on the environment.

The Clean Air Coalition, a political action committee formed in opposition of the coal plant, said the power plant will negatively impact the air, water, climate and residents’ health.

Dr. Ronald Saff, a Tallahassee physician, opposes the project.

“Coal-fired power plants cause asthma and cancer,” said Dr. Saff, in the coalition’s brochure. “Putting one in Taylor County will harm and cut short the life of too many people.”

The coalition supports energy efficiency and believes that there are alternatives to coal. On the coalition’s web site, it gives several renewable-energy alternatives, including solar electricity, solar water heaters and wind power.

Even with all the controversy, some residents are still either undecided or unaware of the project.

“I’ve heard about the power plant, but still haven’t made a decision,” said Shontelle Childress, a FAMU employee and 4-year resident.

Many students, including Monet Duncan and Kenya Irvin, haven’t heard about NFPP.

“I don’t know anything about it,” said Duncan, 22, a senior Spanish student from Boston.

Contact Johnitta T. Richards at johnitta@hotmail.com