Jacksonville’s municipal electric utility, JEA and Florida Power & Light formally agreed Tuesday to retire the St. John’s River Power Park coal-fired power plant in early 2018.
The 1,358 megawatt capacity plant was built in the early 1980s and sits on 1,600 acres in northeastern Jacksonville, Florida.
At maximum capacity, St. John’s burned about 4.5 million tons of coal each year.
The site includes two unlined ash ponds and three unlined landfills, with a history of exceedances of state and/or federal groundwater standards for aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, chloride and sulfate.
Taking St. John’s off the grid gives co-owners JEA and Florida Power & Light an opportunity to invest more in Florida’s booming solar economy, rather than sinking customers’ money into expensive, dangerous fossil fuels.
Solar is a winning bet in the Sunshine State, which JEA already knows: Its solar project came online in 2010 and is now at 15 megawatts—enough to power more than 1,450 homes.
And over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar capacity—19 times more than the amount installed in the last five years.
“We’re very glad there’s an end in sight for this huge, polluting coal plant,” said Susannah Randolph, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Florida. “But we also need to make sure it’s replaced with the renewable energy Floridians made clear they want when they overwhelmingly voted down the solar-killing Amendment One in November.”
Jacksonville resident and conservation chair for the Sierra Club Florida, Tom Larson, weighed in on the decision. “Expanded, homegrown, low-cost solar also would bring good-paying jobs that people like those who have worked faithfully at St. John’s Power Park could count on to keep taking care of their families,” Larson said.
“Right now, FPL generates a measly 1 percent of its electricity from solar and continues to overbuild a climate-disrupting fracked-gas-dependent infrastructure. This is inexcusable in Florida, where we have such tremendous solar potential and where we’re so vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”
The St. John’s River Power Park is the largest plant to propose retirement in the state of Florida and is the second largest plant to propose retirement in 2017.
“This retirement is a victory for climate action and for public health,” said Frank Jackalone, staff director of the Sierra Club’s Florida chapter. “And as Florida’s fleet of dirty, uneconomic coal plants inevitably retire, we’ll continue to push utilities to replace them with renewable energy, and not with climate-disrupting fracked gas.”
“We’ll also urge cities to follow the lead of places like St. Petersburg in planning for a transition to 100 percent clean energy,” he said. “This is the smartest, safest way forward for our communities, our environment and our economy.”
The closure of St. John’s marks the 253rd announced coal plant retirement since the launch of the Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, and seventh plant to announce retirement since January 2017.