A Burning Issue

The Taylor County Commission gave the North Florida Power Project a thumbs up to build a coal plant in its community. Now, Tallahassee voters must consider whether they think the city should make a more than $360 million investment to take partner in it.

Coal is at the center of one of Tallahassee's most heated debates in years. The question is whether the City of Tallahassee should invest in a 20 percent share of a coal plant planned in Taylor County.

It will look a lot like the one in Jacksonville. It's otherwise known as the North Florida Power Project. Heading the project is the Jacksonville Electric Authority.

Don Cheatham with the North Florida Power Project says, "It's coming anyway, we're going to build it and we would love to have Tallahassee as a partner."

Cheatham says if Tallahassee chooses not to participate another utility will step in to take its place to become one of the four utilities building the plant, so you may be wondering what your vote will mean.

A yes vote gives the city the option to choose to participate if the commission finds it's the best fuel alternative.

Mark Mustian, Tallahassee City Commissioner, says, "I don't know that at the end of the day we'll actually do it , but I think it makes sense to keep it on the table."

A no will take the option off the table. Commissioner Allan Katz says the North Florida Power Project is not the right option for Tallahassee.

Allan Katz, Tallahassee City Commissioner, says, "There's this great myth this will somehow make people's bills come down and the reality is it is very unlikely that will occur."

But the city's participation is not for the commission to decide; it's up to the voters. Regardless of what Tallahassee voters decide, the Jacksonville Electric Authority, which is taking a 31 percent share of the plant, says a coal plant will still be built in Taylor County.

Mike Lawson, Project Director for the North Florida Power Project, says, "We need fuel diversity, we need more generation in the state of Florida. If the plant doesn't get built, it won't be because Tallahassee wasn't a participant."

Lawson says there will be a two year permitting process where anything could happen, but he's confident the plant will go through, but that doesn't mean your vote doesn't count because the real issue at hand. Tallahassee needs another fuel source since it currently relies on natural gas, it's for you decide if the right option is coal.

North Florida Power Project leaders say if the plant is built, it will bring 180 jobs to Taylor County with an average hourly wage of $20 an hour. They say they chose Taylor County because of its central locations to participating utilities and access to railways.