The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retrofit its Big Bend Power Station south of Tampa is a misdirected grab for the perfect at the expense of the possible.
The environmental advocacy group filed a motion with the state this month to prevent Tampa Electric from converting one of its Big Bend power units to natural gas. Tampa Electric filed an application with state regulators in April to convert its coal-fired Unit 1 to natural gas by 2021. The move is part of the company's larger shift away from coal as it seeks cleaner and more efficient power generating sources.
Sierra opposes the plan because of its continued reliance on fossil fuels. A policy the group adopted in 2006 and amended in 2016 calls for phasing out power plants that burn coal and gas. In its filing, Sierra said it opposes the build-out of gas-burning plants "because sinking large sums of money into them is contrary to the urgent need to stem climate damages."
Solar and other renewables must play a larger part in the nation's energy mix. But this project is another step in Tampa Electric's effort to incorporate cleaner energies. The company expects the Big Bend project will reduce harmful emissions in Tampa Electric's system by more than 6,000 tons per year; between now and 2023, the company will reduce its use of coal by half while increasing its use of renewables. This trend is one the company and the community should build on, and the Sierra Club's opposition to converting a coal-powered plant to natural gas is misguided.