Home editor's blog on sun & fossil fuels Coal plant, solar & manatees create odd contrast

Coal plant, solar & manatees create odd contrast

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A statue of a manatee with giant coal plant smokestacks in the background at the Manatee Viewing Center at the Tampa Electric Co. Big Bend Power Plant in Central Florida. [Photo Credit: Christof Demont-Heinrich]

editors-blog-entry3The world is full of plenty of stark nature/humankind contrasts -- and I just saw one this morning in Florida, where we are spending a week with my mother-in-law in Ruskin.

Ruskin isn't far from a Tampa Electric Company (TECO) coal power plant that's probably more well known for the manatees that winter in the warm waters produced by the plant than for the electricity it produces.

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This sign promoting renewable energy at Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center in Central Florida seems out of place with hulking smokestacks in the background. [Photo Credit: Christof Demont-Heinrich]

Solar in shadow of coal
In addition to the odd juxtaposition of a nature preserve in the shadows of a hulking coal power plant of the sort that's destroying our planet, the TECO Big Bend Plant also has a set of Solar Trees in the parking lot of the Manatee Viewing Center. Of course, the total electricity output of this TECO coal plant's Solar Trees -- 23.8 kW -- pales in comparison to the output of the plant -- 1,700 megawatts.

Sure, we're dependent on coal right now, and I'll acknowledge that in many places it powers the modern conveniences we've become accustomed to, most notably, air conditioning, arguably the key to the massive growth that's occurred in Florida and other places of the American South.

But coal doesn't have to be king. Study after study has shown that the world could run on renewable energy forms such as solar.

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Coal plant smokestacks tower over a solar tree in the parking lot at the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Plant. [Photo Credit: Christof Demont-Heinrich]

And, frankly, I can't wait until it does. Of course, the manatees that find their way to TECO's Big Bend Power Plant won't come here anymore if it's decomissioned some day in favor of solar -- Florida is a great place for solar, and it's sad that it has so comparatively little of it. The extra warm water they come here for won't be unusually warm without an active coal power plant at Big Bend.

Manatees and solar
But Big Bend will be a hell of a lot quieter -- the Manatee Viewing Center has to be the loudest nature preserve I've ever been to, and, as a lifelong birdwatcher, I've been to a lot of nature preserves. It'll also be a lot cleaner without the TECO coal power plant that dominates the skyline in this patch of west-central Florida.

And the manatees that come to winter in the shadows of this Florida coal power plant?

They'll find another place to winter and the species as a whole, and the many, many other animal species that populate our planet will be far better off when the solar that's in the parking lot at TECO's Big Bend Coal Plant becomes less of a tiny show piece, both in the parking lot, and in the U.S. as a whole, and a primary producer of electricity in west-central Florida, in the rest of the U.S., and the world in general.

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The sign says it all -- and the massive smokestacks behind it show what a long way we have to go before solar truly brings it home for us. [Photo Credit: Christof Demont-Heinrich]

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