Pollution Control Will Cost Consumers; JEA Will Have to Pass on Increases to Use Less Coal and Clean Up

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

JEA ratepayers, already facing increases, may have dodged even higher charges when a bill aimed at controlling pollution fizzled in the U.S. Senate this month.

But expect more debate over legislation that could cost the city-owned utility hundreds of millions of dollars as policymakers try to reduce the nation's carbon output.

The costs -- potentially needed to install equipment to capture pollution or buy emissions allowances -- would be passed on to consumers. Bud Para, JEA's government relations director, said a recent bill that failed in the Senate would have required JEA buy $275 million in emissions allowances to continue operating.

Ratepayers in that scenario would have received an 18 percent increase to cover the cost, he said.

That would be on top of a more than 15 percent increase kicking in next month to lift JEA out of a $61 million deficit as the utility grapples with skyrocketing fuel costs.

Regardless of what the fuels cost, environmentalists want utilities to be cleaner about burning them. Both presumptive presidential candidates are listening. U.S. Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama support measures, including cap-and-trade programs, which place limits on emissions and require companies exceeding those limits to purchase credits from lesser-polluters.

Criticisms come from companies such as JEA, which produces most of its energy by burning coal and petroleum coke. Para said Florida's geography is a big part of the problem. While utilities throughout the nation have mixed windmills and hydropower into their portfolios, the potential for those sources near Jacksonville is little if any.

That's despite green efforts that built JEA one the largest solar power systems in Florida and led the utility to begin purchasing 10 megawatts of wind power from a farm in Nebraska. …