South Florida is getting a new natural gas plant with a surprising feature.
Florida Power & Light’s Dania Beach plant that is connected to the sea by a canal will elevate critical infrastructure 11 and a half feet to protect from sea level rise, a growing threat caused by emissions from fossil fuel plants.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet voted Friday to approve FPL’s tear-down and rebuild of the plant near Port Everglades. It is expected to begin operating in 2022.
FPL applied in July 2017 for permission to take down the existing natural gas power plant on that site and replace it with the newer, more efficient facility named the “Dania Beach Clean Energy Center.” The facilities burn natural gas, supplied from the Florida Gas Transmission Pipeline.
Scott and cabinet members Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam act as a state “siting” board with authority to decide whether power-plant projects should move forward.
The power company argued it’s too expensive to run the older, less efficient plant, in part because parts for the older machinery are harder to come by.
The $888 million project is expected to operate until at least 2062. By that time the area is expected to see 14 to 34 inches of sea level rise, according to scientific predictions used by government planners in four counties, including Broward County.
Those projections, as part of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, recommend that decision makers use the higher scenarios when planning projects for long-term, critical projects like power plants. Broward instructed FPL to follow the recommendations of the compact in building the new plant, but FPL chose to plan for 26 inches on the advice of its civil engineer, according to a transcript of his deposition by Sierra Club lawyers.
Some parts of the existing plant that will serve the new facility, including fuel and storage tanks, will not be elevated because they were built to code at the time. FPL’s civil engineer told Sierra Club lawyers he did not evaluate their potential flood risk.
“As we do with all of our infrastructure, we will monitor existing components of the Dania Beach site and make adjustments as necessary to ensure we are able to deliver reliable electricity to customers,” said FPL spokesman Chris McGrath.
The state’s decision was initially supposed to be made on Sept. 11, weeks ahead of the statute-set deadline of Sept 28. The vote was moved then to Nov. 30, after Election Day.
McKinley Lewis, the governor’s deputy communications director, told the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting then that the meeting and FPL vote were rescheduled because they conflicted with the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah. On that day, however, Scott and the Cabinet held a Clemency Board meeting, to hear requests to restore ex-felons’ voting rights.
“Tearing down an aging power plant and replacing it with the highly efficient Dania Beach Clean Energy Center will cut primary air emissions 70 percent, reduce the amount of natural gas we use system-wide and save customers hundreds of millions of dollars over time,” McGrath said in a statement after the meeting. “Importantly, this project is a continuation of our efforts in recent years to position FPL as one of the cleanest, yet affordable and reliable electric companies in the nation.”
The Sierra Club has been a vocal opponent of the project, filing multiple legal briefs questioning Florida Power & Light’s decision to elevate only parts of the plant in the face of rising seas. Sierra Club argues the new plant will be more expensive, more polluting and at risk to sea rise within its lifetime.
Sierra Club motioned to remove Scott from voting on this issue because of his investments in NextEra Energy Partners, a stand-alone company affiliated with FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy, and his questioning of climate change science. The governor has invested as much as $500,000 in NextEra Energy Partners. The Sierra Club also motioned to remove Patronis and Putnam from voting, but all three requests were denied.
Scientific studies have shown that Florida has more to lose than any other state in the nation to sea level rise induced by climate change.
The Sierra Club’s Susannah Randolph and attorney Julie Kaplan each gave testimony at Friday’s meeting, urging the siting board to reconsider. They said the motion’s approval will result in “catastrophic damages” to Florida that will extend far beyond the initial construction.
Kaplan said greenhouse gas emissions from the plant will directly contribute to climate change, exacerbating sea level rise and extreme weather.
Randolph said the decision has faced opposition from the community at every turn, in the form of trips to Tallahassee, over 1,000 phone calls to the governor’s office and public hearings in Dania Beach.
“We believe the people of Florida, the people suffering from the impacts on climate change, should possess the most influence on this decision,” Randolph said. “What will you tell residents when the last of their personal possessions wash out to sea and the plant that fuels that tide stands above them?”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report