Seminole Electric to build gas-fired plant

Officials say construction of power plant will start at end of 2019

After more than a year of will-they, won’t-they, Seminole Electric Cooperative on Thursday announced it would diversify its energy sources and build a gas-powered facility at its Palatka plant.

In August 2016, Seminole general manager Lisa Johnson said if the company were to expand, there was a good chance it would do so in Palatka. The company even secured zoning and Land Development Code changes earlier this year in anticipation of possible construction.

But on Thursday, company officials confirmed their plan to add a gas-fired plant in Palatka, purchase power agreements and reduce the company’s reliance on coal.

Johnson said adding a gas-powered facility would help the company become more competitive and continue to thrive in Palatka.

In a statement, Johnson called the plan “a balanced approach that will let us generate power more competitively with natural gas, while managing the risk and unpredictability of potential future policy changes relating to carbon emissions associated with coal.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama’s administration unveiled the Clean Power Plan, which called for a drastic reduction of carbon emissions and the closure of multiple coal-powered plants in Florida.

Since then, a stay was filed against the plan and no resolution has occurred.

While Seminole plans to add a gas-powered plant, the company will remove one of its two coal-fired generating units at its Palatka location.

Seminole’s board of trustees in 2015 began deliberating whether to close the coal-fired stations, but decided to leave one of them online to go along with the gas-fired plant.

“This was a difficult decision that was made only after a thoughtful planning process,” Johnson said in a statement. “We, our employees and our community are proud of (the Seminole Generating Station) and our leadership in environmental responsibility and sustainability in the U.S. By continuing the operation of one unit, we maintain a valuable asset in our energy portfolio, while maintaining fuel diversity.”

Ryan Hart, communications manager for Seminole, said negotiations are still underway, and a price for the construction is not yet known.

It should take about three years to construct the gas-fired facility, he said, and construction is scheduled to begin near the end of 2019.

“The facility is planned to come online in the … end of 2022,” Hart said.

In a statement, Seminole officials expect some reduction in the size of its workforce because of closing one of its coal-fired plants. But the company wants to minimize the effects this could have on the county and its workforce through attrition, retirement and having workers assume other roles in the company.

But while the gas-fired plant is under construction, according to the statement, officials expect an average of 200 temporary workers per month. But at any given time, there could be 500 workers on site during construction, Seminole officials said.

Putnam County Board of Commissioners Chairman Larry Harvey said he was thrilled about the number of construction jobs that would come to the county. Those workers would also boost business at local restaurants, stores and hotels, among other places, Harvey said.

Although Seminole officials made speeches about possible construction and applied for zoning changes at its current location, county officials were never certain construction would actually happen, Harvey said.

But now that it has been made officials, Harvey said, he is excited about the county’s future with Seminole.

“It’s a wonderful thing for Putnam County for Seminole to diversify and invest in Putnam County,” Harvey said Thursday. “I was hopeful – I wouldn’t say confident – hopeful that they would (build). You never know until someone starts singing the song. And they started singing today.”

Palatka Daily News

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