JEA Unveils Revamped Northside Generating Station; Units Converted to Increase Power, Cut Pollution

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, Times-Union staff writer

The Better Jacksonville Plan will feature a lot of ribbon-cuttings and soaring oratory in the coming years when the new county courthouse, arena, baseball park and main library are built.

But in terms of sheer cost and widespread impact on residents throughout the Jacksonville area, none will compare with yesterday's "official unveiling" of the JEA's revamped Northside Generating Station.

At a current cost of about $630 million -- the equivalent of nine new Fuller Warren Bridges -- the JEA converted two units at the power plant, located on Jacksonville's Northside off Heckscher Drive. The U.S. Department of Energy chipped in $72 million of the cost because the plant falls within the federal government's "clean coal" program, aimed at reducing air pollution from coal-burning power plants.

The rest of the funding will come from JEA customers. Unlike the Better Jacksonville Plan, which required a half-cent sales tax hike, the JEA has not raised rates in 12 years. The current bill of $68 a month for a typical customer is the lowest of any major utility in Florida.

The JEA's final cost for the project remains undetermined because the utility continues to review construction contracts that could result in a higher or lower expense. The JEA also is still trying to get the units to burn on 100 percent petroleum coke, a by-product of oil refining that is even cheaper than coil. Currently, the plant can burn a mixture of pet coke and coal, with pet coke consisting of up to 70 percent of the mix.

In a lunchtime ceremony yesterday, the JEA served barbecue to several hundred attendees who gathered under a large tent and listened to speakers raise their voices above the drone of the nearby power plant. …