A Burning Issue: Part III

This week we've examined the political, environmental and health concerns surrounding the plant. The Jacksonville Electric Authority's pulverized coal plant is one of two plants in the St. John's River Power Park, and the JEA says it's a good example of what we can expect to see built in Taylor County.

Mike Lawson, Project Director of the North Florida Power Project, says, “If it was just JEA, we would be building it in Jacksonville. In fact, we have other plants on the drawing board other than this. We will be building others."

There are four utilities that would take part. It's up to Tallahassee voters to decide whether Tallahassee should have a seat at the table, but there have been many concerns.

Will it make a difference in rates?

JEA says it will. They know from experience before there was coal in Jacksonville; JEA says there was oil.

Don Cheatham, Assistant Director of the North Florida Power Project, says, "JEA diversified when they brought on new power sources and put in coal, that's why our power costs are among the lowest in the state."

We'll compare the rates using 1,000 kilowatts. It's what most utilities say is the average home's monthly usage.

In Jacksonville, 1,000 kilowatts costs $89.15. That's compared to the capital city's $118.77, but energy costs are just part of the debate.

There's also the question of health. Robbie Smith runs the Safe Harbor Boys Home, JEA's closest neighbor which is also next door to the coal transfer station.

Robbie Smith says, "We have boys who have allergies and all kinds of problems and they clear up while they're here, and we're obviously right next door to the coal plant."

Clean the Air, a national campaign against dirty air, says they may want to think again. It claims by 2010 in Jacksonville there will be 94 deaths related to the coal plant, 13 lung cancer deaths and more than 2,000 asthma attacks.

However, the health departments in that area say there have been no complaints of deaths, cancer or asthma attacks related to the coal plant.

While the North Florida Power Project swirls at the center of a heated debate here, a Gulf power coal plant is working to supply power already just a few counties away in Sneads.

Gulf Power has been there since 1953 and is only operated at certain times of the year, but we could not find any issues associated with that plant.

There's one certain issue though. There is a need for more power. It's now for you decide if the North Florida Power Project is the right option.

The coal referendum ballots are due back to the supervisor of election’s office no later than 7 p.m. on November 17.