Jacksonville Electric Authority
Since its inception, the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) has been charged with delivering reliable and affordable electricity throughout its service area. It has fulfilled that charge and its citizen owners have been placated. As a consequence, JEA has been given a degree of autonomy with limited scrutiny. The absence of scrutiny and no change in its charge has allowed JEA to largely maintain the status quo. For example, it continues using highly polluting fossil fuels for energy generation while making a minimal commitment to renewable energy sources. Renewable energy comprised 1% of JEA’s energy generation portfolio in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. Conversely, other municipal utilities have begun transitioning their energy generation from highly polluting fossil fuels to cleaner fuel options and renewable energy.
JEA Plans for the Future
A utility’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) reflects its long-term strategy for improving its facilities and energy generation practices. The Sierra Club reviewed and rated the IRPs for 79 utilities nation-wide based on their “plans to retire coal, construct new gas plants, and build new clean energy”. In this rating JEA’s IRP received a score of 4 out of a possible 100 points. As a result, JEA’s IRP received an F grade for its failure to set a timeline for retiring its coal plants and transition to clean energy sources. By contrast, the Orlando Utilities Commission’s IRP received a B grade illustrating a utility company can modernize its energy portfolio if there is a will to do so. Links to the aforementioned review and its 2021 report are provided below.
JEA and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
With the exception of emissions by automobiles, trucks, and other modes of transportation, JEA facilities are the primary source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Northeast Florida. An analysis of EPA emissions data by the Sierra Club of Northeast Florida (SCNEF) revealed JEA is the source of over 90% of the annual GHG emissions by large facilities in the region. The analysis also revealed some areas of the city received disproportionate, direct exposure to JEA GHG emissions. The analysis illustrates the magnitude of annual JEA GHG emissions is substantial and a major contributor to global warming. Use this link to obtain the SCNEF Greenhouse Gas Emissions report.
Northside Generating Station
The aforementioned GHG emissions analysis revealed the primary source of JEA GHG emissions have been, and continue to be, coal-fired power plants. From 2011 to 2018 the St Johns River and Northside Generating Stations accounted for 73 to 83 percent of the annual GHG emission in Duval County. After the St. Johns River Power Generating Station was decommissioned in 2017 the Northside Generating Station (NSGS) accounted for 60% of the annual GHG emissions. The NSGS’s two coal-fired generating stations, Units 1 and 2, were built in 1966 and 1972, respectively. The technology employed by these units is dated and inefficient by modern standards. The pollution mitigation systems used with the NSGS generating units meet minimal EPA requirement for reducing atmospheric pollutants. Further, the generating station is located in an environmentally sensitive area which exposes surrounding wetlands to harm from coal ash and liquid waste. JEA currently has no timeline for decommissioning and replacing the NSGS.
JEA and Renewable Energy
While many other municipal utilities made substantial commitments to renewable energy, JEA derived 1% of its energy from renewable sources in 2020. To put this into context, twelve mid to large size Florida cities and their associated utilities have committed to derive 100% of their energy from renewable sources by 2050.
JEA Oversight and Management
For decades JEA was led by administrators committed to fulfill its mandate to deliver reliable, affordable electricity and little else. In recent years it was led by administrators who advocated for its sale to a private energy company. JEA was portrayed as a failing utility lacking financial viability and unable to innovate its way to success. It is conceivable there were conscious efforts to impede innovation and modernization to fulfill the image being portrayed. Regardless, JEA remains a citizen-owned utility, has new leadership, and a directive to succeed. Will the citizen-owners, and elected officials who represent them, ask JEA to expand its original charge beyond merely delivering cheap electricity? Will there be support for innovation, modernization, and efforts to capitalize on cost-effective renewable energy options? Will there be support for reducing Jacksonville’s carbon footprint, operate in a socially responsible fashion, and adopt practices that help address longstanding environmental justice issues? Will there be support for decommissioning the Northside Generating Station and replacing it with renewable energy sources?