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Tampa Electric CEO: More solar ahead

Margie Manning

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Tampa Electric is looking at launching a second wave of solar projects.

“We’re aways from announcing, but rest assured that more solar in our fleet is where we are headed,” said Nancy Tower, president and CEO.

Tampa Electric is spending $850 million to build 600 megawatts of solar power. It’s also spending  $850 million to modernize its Big Bend power generation plant in southern Hillsborough County, where it will build two new highly efficient gas-fired generators, replacing coal-fired ones currently in use.

The company relied on coal for 80 percent of its generation power in 1999-2000.

“We will have a higher percentage of solar generation than we will coal”  by 2023, Tower said. By then, Tampa Electric expects to rely on solar power for about 7 percent of its needs, coal for just 2 percent to 5 percent, and most of the rest from natural gas.

“We hopefully by then will be building the second wave of solar,” she said.

She spoke just one day after Duke Energy Florida, based in St. Petersburg,  said it would build three additional solar power plants. Duke expects to havenine solar power plants in operation by the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Greening the generation fleet is one of three top priorities for Tower, who took the top jobs at the Tampa utility in December 2017. Others are safety and customer services, she said at a University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business event, Conversation with a CEO, where she talked with Dean Moez Limayem.

Tower was previously an executive with Emera Inc. (TSX: EMA), the Canadian company that bought TECO Energy in Tampa in 2016 for $10.4 billion. The acquisition, one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area, gave Emera both Tampa Electric, which serves about 750,000 customers in West Central Florida, and Peoples Gas System, Florida’s largest natural gas distribution utility, which serves about 375,000 customers across Florida, including St. Petersburg.

Tower stepped into her job just a few months after an accident at the Big Bend plant that killed five workers. She said the thing she worries about most is someone getting hurt at work.

“One of my priorities has been making the company safer,” Tower said. Within a month of taking the CEO post, she appointed a vice president of safety, among other changes. “The biggest one, probably is the leadership team has been out in the field showing our personal commitment to safety … No one should get hurt at work, and we believe we can be a company where no one gets hurt at work.”

In the Amazon era, where customers expect more of companies than previously, meeting those expectations is another priority. Tower is focused on better communications and customer engagement.

“As customers us through our JD Power scores, we’ve been making some progress in that regard as well,”  she said.

Tampa Electric scored 770 out of 1,000 possible points on the December 2018 JD Power electric utility business customer satisfaction study, ranking No. 6 among utilities in the midsize segment in the south.

Other big issues on Tower’s mind are ongoing union negotiations and a potential constitutional amendment in Florida to deregulate the utility industry.

“But we have a good team … We lean in every day and tackle the big issues,” Tower said. “I feel it’s my responsibility to keep my employees safe, and that’s the biggest weight on my shoulders.”

 

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