Miami-Dade County

Boom! Lauderdale power plant razed

Four familiar smokestacks at Port Everglades came down forever early Tuesday morning with a swift string of flashes, pops and echoing rumbles that — from a safe distance — sounded a bit like a Fourth of July fireworks finale.

That was fitting since Florida Power & Light’s official theme for the razing of the aging, oil-burning power plant in Fort Lauderdale was “Countdown to Energy Independence.”

There was some nostalgia over the disappearance of the candy cane-striped towers that have been a Fort Lauderdale landmark for 50 years but not for the tankers full of expensive imported crude they burned and the pollution they spewed. FPL plans to replace the outdated plant with a $1.1 billion facility that will burn natural gas produced in the United States, reduce emissions by more than 90 percent and run on 35 percent less fuel.

“The boom may last only a minute, but it will be a long-term boon for our economy, the environment and America’s push for energy independence,’’ said FPL President Eric Silagy, just before beginning a countdown to trigger the 450 pounds of strategically placed explosives that felled the 350-foot smokestacks and four hulking steel boiler buildings.

“Part of me will be sad to see them go but only a small part of me,’’ said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who was among a number of political leaders FPL invited to observe the demolition from the third-floor of the nearby Broward County Convention Center.

Wasserman Schultz praised the utility as an industry leader in reducing use of foreign oil and for investing in clean and renewable energy production that will slash the output of carbon dioxide, a so-called “green house” gas that scientists say is driving climate change and the rising sea levels that are a major threat to South Florida.

Since 2001, Silagy said, the company has cut back on foreign oil use by 98 percent, from 40 million barrels to less than 1 million barrels today.

The Port Everglades plant, which has been offline since late last year, is the third and largest oil-burning plant that FPL has razed in Florida in the last three years, following Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach. FPL routes power from elsewhere to serve the area’s consumers. The upgraded plant is expected to go online in 2016.

Though the Port Everglades plant had been upgraded over the years to meet increasingly stringent federal pollution standards on power plants and could also burn natural gas, it remained a major source of air pollution in Broward County and a relic of both the industry’s and Fort Lauderdale’s past.

When its boilers first fired up in 1960, said Pam Rauch, an FPL vice president, the city was a fifth of its current population, a typical house cost $12,000, a car cost $2,600 and a gallon of gas ran 26 cents. Dwight Eisenhower, namesake of one of Port Everglades’ main roads, was the president.

The demolition went off with near clock-work precision at 6:45 a.m., just five minutes after sunrise. In the soft morning light, the first linear-shaped charges flashed like a photographer’s strobe light, cutting the steel legs out from under the massive boiler buildings. Then the red-and-white towers wobbled as dynamite detonated in holes drilled in their bases. They tumbled slowly sideways, criss-crossing like giant bowling pins. The whole thing, from first flash of explosive to last falling stack, took just over 40 seconds on a stopwatch — even faster than the 60 seconds blasting contractors had estimated.

A cloud of brown dust — the old plant’s last dirty emission — rose but dissipated in a few minutes under the gentle ocean breeze.

Clean-up work, however, is far from over. Contractors now have to a haul away an estimated 30,000 tons of steel from the boilers and from 4,000 to 6,000 tons of concrete and brick from the smokestacks.

The demolition got a lot of play on both local and national news, with ABC’s Good Morning America showing a clip and citing the improved pollution and energy standards of the plant that will replace it. In addition to local media shots, FPL had a series of cameras on the site that will provide closer views and different angles. FPL spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said the utility planned to post links to them on its website,

FPL turned the event into a company celebration with 300-plus people, including several dozen retired plant workers. Julia Dale, a Davie middle-schooler who has gained fame for singing the national anthem during the Miami Heat’s championship playoff runs, sang it for the pre-boom ceremony. Chaplain Ronald Perkins of the port’s Seafarer’s House gave the invocation.

“I have been asked to pray over a lot of things but I have never done a demolition before,’’ he said, drawing laughter.