Posted by: Sheri Anderson on Thursday, February 6, 2020

By Sheri Anderson, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Leadership Tampa class of 2020 was privileged to be part of an inaugural programming day focusing on the highly relevant topics of energy and conservation. Environmental discussions happening on the global mainstage were brough front and center, highlighting ecological challenges and ongoing efforts to combat them in the Tampa Bay region.

The day started at the Florida Conservation and Technology Center (FCTC) at Apollo Beach where LT ‘20 had the opportunity to hear from Archie Collins, Chief Operating Officer of Tampa Electric Company (TECO). With its beginnings in Tampa dating back to 1899, Tampa Electric was purchased by Halifax, Nova Scotia based Emera in 2015. At a glance, Emera has $32B in assets, $6.5B in revenues, 2.5M customers and 7.5K employees. 51% of the company’s earnings come from Florida, 36% from Atlantic Canada, 5% from Maine, and 4% from the Caribbean and New Mexico, respectively.

Emera’s corporate strategic initiatives include carbon reduction, rate stability, innovation, and sustainability. Although Florida is a regulated energy market, meaning TECO owns the lines and associated infrastructure, and generates or purchases electricity, and sells it to the end customer, it prides itself on exceeding customer expectations and being the provider customers would choose – in a regulated or unregulated market.

Emera is investing hundreds of millions of dollars into cleaner energy. In Nova Scotia, wind power investment has resulted in 36% lower CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2010. In Tampa, TECO expects to see 30% lower CO2 emissions by 2023 through the combined efforts of its use of solar energy and phasing out coal for natural gas in energy production.

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After hearing from Archie, the crew embarked on an informative, albeit chilly on the rare 45-degree morning, tour of Big Bend station and the manatee viewing center. TECO’s Big Bend Power Station dates back 50 years to when the first coal-fired unit became operational in 1970, with three additional units coming online between 1973 and 1985. TECO has added flue gas desulfurization systems – scrubbers – to its units over the years to meet environment regulations set by the US Clean Air Act, removing 95% of sulfur dioxide from the four energy producing units.

In addition to adhering to national environmental regulations, TECO repurposes the byproducts of its energy production. Gypsum, created during the scrubbing process, is repurposed and used locally in construction for drywall and cement as well as in agriculture as a soil nutrient or fertilizer. Fly ash and slag, also byproducts of the combustion of coal, are used in the cement and concrete industries.

In cooler weather, manatees flock to the power station’s discharge canal where warm water flows into the bay after being used to cool the energy producing Big Bend. The warm water refuge now serves as a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary where Tampa locals and tourists alike can see the gentle mammals up close and personal.

Rounding out the morning programming, we heard from TECO’s Tom Hernandez, Senior Vice President of Distributed Energy & Renewables, who presented on energy transition and renewables. Tom has been integral in leading TECO’s efforts to phase out coal in exchange for natural gas and to implement solar energy initiatives. Big Bend is home to rotating solar panels that follow the suns movement to maximize energy production and can power 3,500 homes. By 2021, TECO anticipates adding 6 million solar panels, enough to power another 100,000 homes, leading to 7% of Tampa Electric’s total energy generation coming from the sun. Because of the significant space needed to house solar panels, TECO is exploring alternatives to scale the renewable energy source, including the possibility of floating solar panels in the water surrounding Florida.

The afternoon started with an overview of the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center and the work being done there in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), TECO, The Florida Aquarium, and The University of Florida. Dr. Kathy Guindon spoke about indoor/outdoor classroom space and the learning opportunities provided to kids and families through recreational outdoor activities. In addition to day camps, the grounds are used free-of-charge for student field trips allowing hands-on learning in the areas of marine science, science based natural resource management, and stewardship behaviors and conversation literacy concepts.

We then heard about the extensive work being done by The Florida Aquarium in research, conservation, and aquatic rehabilitation from Andrew Wood, Chief Operating Officer. The three key pillars for The Florida Aquarium include:

  • Coral Conservation with the objective of restoring Florida’s coral reef tract through successful land-based propagation and re-introduction. Currently, less than 5% of coral coverage remains in the Florida Gulf. Here’s a great overview of The Florida Aquarium’s work in coral reproduction as aired on NPR in August of 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/08/25/754122930/getting-coral-to-reproduce
  • Sea Turtle Conservation with the objective of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing endangered sea turtles.
  • Shark Conservation with the objective of better understanding shark biology, specifically reproductive health, to inform species protection strategies.

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Working hand-in-hand with FWC and The Florida Aquarium, Dr. Josh Patterson of The University of Florida is permanently housed at the Conservation Center. Dr. Patterson and other scientists work on-site to further research in aquatic life reproduction and conservation.

The learnings throughout the morning and early afternoon came full circle when we had the opportunity to tour the grounds and see the work being done firsthand. LT ’20 was split up into smaller groups and participated in hands-on activities including testing water quality, catch-and-release fishing, a tour of the endangered turtle rehabilitation facilities, visiting the coral reproduction building, and exploring the riverbank.

  • Using native Florida plants in our yards and gardens, reducing the amount of watering needed to maintain them. Utilizing barrels to collect rain and use for watering.
  • Turning off the water while we brush our teeth
  • Eliminating the use of single use plastics like bottles and plastic grocery bags. Use reusable cloth bags whenever possible.
  • Washing vehicles on the lawn instead of the driveway so nutrients don’t run off into the water supply

Energy and conservation day was informative and provided a deeper understanding of environmental threats as well as the work being done to protect and conserve the natural resources that make Tampa Bay such a wonderful place to live.

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