J. Logan Cross is the Sierra Club of Northeast Florida Executive Committee Chairman
Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) recently developed an Electrical Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) to delineate how it will produce and deliver electricity over a 10-15 year period. The plan was developed with the assistance of an engineering consulting company. The planning process included input from an IRP Stakeholder Advisory Committee composed of representatives from large energy consuming organizations/companies, civic organizations, and subject matter experts. I represented the Sierra Club of Northeast Florida (SCNEF) on the advisory committee, yet I disagree with aspects of the EIRP planning process and the plan produced. The following is what was objectionable about the EIRP and potential ramifications of implementing the plan as designed.
EIRP Development Process
The Electrical IRP planning was facilitated by Black and Veatch (B&V) an engineering, consulting, and construction company. The B&V staff performed the “modeling” to inform and guide development of the plan. Modeling is an analytic method for forecasting the anticipated cost, facilities changes, and extent to which anticipated energy needs will be met by an energy generation configuration or “scenario.” The JEA EIRP planning analyzed six scenarios. The scenarios seemed to fall into two contrasting categories, fossil fuel dependent scenarios versus clean energy scenarios and little in-between. The latter group of scenarios included the recommendations made by the Renew Jacksonville Campaign which emphasized modernization of the JEA energy generation systems.
JEA IRP Stakeholder Advisory Committee was well-conceived and executed. Throughout the process, JEA leaders demonstrated patience, openness, and a willingness to receive input from committee participants. As the representative for the SCNEF, I delineated our recommendations for the plan, many of which were supported by other organizations and subject matter experts in the committee. As you might expect, our recommendations emphasized reducing JEA’s dependence on burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and in-so-doing reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. None of our recommendations were unreachable, but they would have required JEA to begin modernizing its electricity generation processes. In the end, though, none of our recommendations were addressed in the plan. This seems to suggest the stakeholder opinions that mattered most were those of big electricity consumers (e.g., the City of Jacksonville, Duval County Public Schools, UNF, and FSCJ). Unfortunately, none of these entities seemed to care how electricity is generated or the resultant damage as long as electricity rates remain affordable and reliable.
Why this is a bad plan
JEA leaders characterize the approved EIRP as a “pragmatic” approach to producing and delivering affordable, reliable electricity over the next 10-15 years. What is pragmatic about building a greenhouse gas emitting combined cycle natural gas (CCNG) plant when an equivalent amount of solar energy sources could be added at a lower cost per kilowatt hour? By adding solar energy sources along with electricity storage systems, JEA could lower electricity rates while lessening greenhouse gas emissions. What is pragmatic about not fully capitalizing on abundant Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) tax credits and rebates for transitioning to renewable energy sources? In poker parlance, this is “leaving money on the table”. What is pragmatic about committing to run the Northside Generating System indefinitely when forthcoming EPA regulations could require expensive retrofitting of its coal-fired generating units? It should be noted the Northside Generating System has two coal-fired generating units over fifty years old and these units are a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region. What is pragmatic about continuing to emit megatons of greenhouse gases every year when the health of the St Johns River is being undermined by global warming and sea level rise? The river is one of the city’s greatest assets, so it makes no sense to continue undermining its health in the interest of pragmatism.
Possibly the worst element of the EIRP is the intent to build a new combined cycle natural gas (CCNG) plant. Such a plant will likely cost in excess of a billion dollars and lock JEA into fossil fuel dependence for decades. With rapid advances in the availability and affordability of clean energy alternatives, the CCNG plant may become a “stranded asset” before the end of its lifespan. That is, it may eventually cost more to run the plant than JEA will receive for selling the electricity it produces. JEA asserts the plant can be converted to using hydrogen, but this seems like an attempt to make a bad decision more acceptable For this to beneficial from an environmental perspective, the hydrogen fuel would need to be “clean”, that is, produced using renewable energy sources. While hydrogen fuel holds promise as cleaner fuel source, it will be many years before clean hydrogen fuel will be produced on a commercial scale and be affordable. If the CCNG plant becomes a reality, customers should resign themselves to paying fuel surcharges that vacillate and often balloon for decades to come.
It should also be noted, the appendices of the JEA EIRP report include charts showing JEA’s anticipated carbon emissions over time. Rather than showing a gradual decline in carbon emissions over time, these charts show substantial increases in carbon emissions over time. This seems to reflect an organization committed to producing affordable, reliable electricity regardless of the environmental consequences.
The EIRP does include a commitment to increasing JEA’s renewable energy sources to 23% and nuclear energy to 12% by 2030. This is a very important and should be applauded. It would be especially applause-worthy if it reflected a philosophical shift in the JEA leadership. Does this move reflect a newfound commitment to transitioning to renewable energy sources or merely following through on commitments made years ago? The nuclear energy purchase agreement was consummated in 2008 and probably would not happen if JEA could get out of the agreement. The land used to build solar farms was purchased in 2017 and 2018 for the dedicated purpose of adding solar energy sources. Will the addition of these energy sources be the start of a JEA transition to clean energy sources or be its last significant clean energy increases?
Since its inception, JEA has delivered affordable, reliable electricity to its customers by burning fossil fuels. So why should JEA change? For decades JEA could belch greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and release liquid waste into the waterways with few apparent, negative consequences. But the consequences of long-term, unrestrained polluting are now evident and increasing. The planet is warming at an alarming rate and the consequences of this warming are increasingly evident and undeniable. Here in Northeast Florida extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense. Periods of extreme heat are becoming lengthy and intense, creating population health challenges. Rising sea levels, warming waters, and salt water intrusion are undermining the health of the St Johns River, one of the city’s greatest assets. Managed retreat from flood-prone areas is becoming a necessity for many and carries a huge price tag. Also, increasing the city’s resilience to extreme weather events will carry a huge price tag that increases as the average temperature increases.
While JEA takes baby-steps in addressing global warming, Jacksonville falls further behind other cities in capitalizing on the emerging clean energy economy. Green energy technologies and industries have emerged as a new frontier for making money and economic growth. In other words, a city can boost its economy and add high-paying jobs by going green. Many cities have recognized this reality and committed to clean energy goals reflecting the city’s values and priorities. As a result, they have become destinations for industries, jobs, and residents with similar priorities. JEA is a city owned utility so JEA efforts to reduce carbon emissions reflect Jacksonville’s efforts to do so. JEA’s EIRP coupled with inaction by the city portrays Jacksonville as a city mired in the past and out of touch with global realities.
On May 25 at 5 PM JEA will share its EIRP in a public forum at WJCT. Though I represented the Sierra Club of Northeast Florida (SCNEF) on JEA’s IRP Stakeholder Advisory Committee, I will not attend the event. The SCNEF does not endorse the approved JEA EIRP, so I do not want my presence to be interpreted as an endorsement. Not attending is painful, because the JEA leadership and employees are dedicated professionals committed to fulfilling the mission/purpose of the utility. Throughout the planning process they went out of their way to be courteous, patient, and receptive. Regardless, JEA’s vision and its EIRP seem shortsighted and disconnected from the reality of global climate change. They also seem disconnected from the reality that economic and financial conditions are right for JEA modernization.
- Logan Cross is a San Marco resident and concerned citizen. He is also chairman of the Sierra Club of Northeast Florida Executive Committee.