Duke Energy subject of solar petition drive in St. Pete

04/02/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: environment, solar, Duke Energy, coal, Sierra Club


Environmentalists want Duke Energy to use solar instead of coal.

photo by Janelle Irwin

About 100 environmental activists are asking Duke Energy to start investing in solar energy instead of continuing to rely on the coal-fired Crystal River plant. The group claims to have delivered more than 5,000 petitions to Duke Energy’s downtown St. Petersburg headquarters after rallying in the park across the street. Brooksville resident Deevon Quirolo says she single-handedly gathered 1,000 of them.

“Austin, Texas just launched a deal to use a solar array with 150 megawatts of energy at less than $0.05 per kilowatt hour. The old coal burning plants at Crystal River together provide a maximum of a little over 800 [megawatts]. The two newer coal plants there provide over 1400 megawatts. So, Duke doesn’t really need to continue to use these old polluting coal plants.”

But thus far, Duke Energy has not taken steps to use solar as a major source of energy for the utility. A statement from the company says Duke will continue to tap energy from its existing plants. On the issue of renewable energy the emailed response says, “As the energy landscape evolves, we will work to incorporate new and other alternative energy technologies.” But environmentalists including the Sierra Club’s Frank Jackalone, say that’s not good enough.

“Duke Energy took $3 billion of our money on a nuclear power plant that’s never going to be built and they got it in advance through advanced cost recovery. The estimate is, they’ve made $250 million in profits off of that. Meanwhile, they spend in a pilot project, $2 million a year toward grants for solar residential photo voltaic panels and $2 million a year to small businesses which goes like that. And that pilot project expired this year. Every signal we get is that they’re going to discontinue it. We’re going backwards folks!”

Activists aren’t just worried about costs. Karen Lieberman is a grandmother concerned for future generations being left a state that could have been pristine, but isn’t because of big polluters like Duke Energy.

“The Crystal River coal fired plant is Florida’s number one source of toxic mercury pollution. Mercury is a neurotoxin. It interferes with the brain and the nervous system. Even in low doses it can affect a child’s development. It can delay walking and talking. It can shorten attention span and cause learning disabilities. In high doses, both prenatal and infant exposures can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness…”

And Environment Florida’s Jennifer Rubiello adds to that, the effects of coal-burning plants contribute to climate change and its effects.

“Sea level rise threatens close to 300,000 homes that are less than 3-feet above high tide. Rising seas threaten, Tampa, Miami and nearly all of our coastal cities. Rising seas also threaten the Everglades and our fresh water drinking supplies. Meanwhile, carbon pollution also changes the chemistry of our oceans which puts our very valuable fisheries and coral reefs at risk.”

That’s why the group is calling on Duke to phase out its Crystal River coal plant by 2016 and instead use solar. Jeremiah Rohr is a project manager for the company Solar Source. He says solar power is a viable option.

“We have the technology. We have the equipment. We have the stuff that these guys say doesn’t work, but it does work and it works really well. It only doesn’t work because it doesn’t work for them because they can’t put a meter on the sun.”

The group’s call for cleaner energy focused on solar, but some elected officials and utility companies have been pushing natural gas as a source of more abundant and cleaner energy. Quirolo, the Brooksville activist who gathered 1,000 petitions, says that is not much better than coal.

“Natural gas is a fossil fuel with all the dangerous climate change impacts of any other fossil fuel when you consider the extraction, shipment and refinement of it. And with the advent of extreme extraction through fracking, we’re facing an even greater environmental risk to our water supply, our lands and our quality of life and short term low prices for it all.”

Activists delivered the petitions two people at a time to Duke Energy’s door. The petitions were glued about six each to large brown posters. The email from Duke Energy spokesperson Sterling Ivey said the company received “several hundred” petitions. Activists claim there were more than 5,000. Kofi Hunt is with the group Awake Pinellas.

“The current that runs through the power lines above us is energy. The light that shines in our houses with the flip of a switch is power. Us standing here in front of the largest energy provider in this country is energy. These 5,000 petitions are power.”

Several groups are banding together to expand solar production in Florida including the Sierra Club, Environment Florida and Awake Pinellas. More information is on their website.

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