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Today in Energy

December 18, 2013

Petroleum's share of Florida's electric generation mix dwindles as natural gas grows

graph of Florida electricity generation, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electricity Monthly Update

Republished: December 19, 2013, to correct an error in the text that mistakenly identified Tampa Electric Company as a municipal utility.

Florida's electric system is made up of the electric systems operated by two large electric balancing authorities (Florida Power & Light and the Florida Power Corporation) as well as several smaller electric systems like the Tampa Electric Company and the Seminole Electric Cooperative. Each of these systems balances system demand and output through a combination of running their own electric generating units and trading with neighboring systems. Additionally, about 8% of Florida's system demand is imported from the Southeast electric region, a large portion of which comes from a large coal-fired unit located in Georgia owned by Florida Power & Light.

What is fuel switching?

Fuel switching refers to the ability of a single generator or power system to change between multiple fuels in the short term. For example, the largest capacity power plant that can switch between natural gas and petroleum liquids in Florida is the West County Energy Center, a collection of three combined-cycle power systems that have the ability to switch between natural gas and distillate fuel oil. But just because these units have the ability to switch doesn't mean it makes economic sense to do so. In 2012, more than 99% of fuel consumed at this power plant was natural gas.

Fuel switching is different than co-firing, which is the use of multiple fuels at the same time and is common among biomass and coal-fired power plants. When one fuel is used rather than another in the dispatch of an electric system, it is called displacement, not fuel switching (for more see the Southeast regional Today in Energy article).

The largest shift in the fuel mix of Florida's electric systems since 2001 has been away from petroleum in favor of natural gas. Because of its relative isolation, Florida remains reliant on petroleum-fired units for backup when electric demand is high or when there are deliverability problems with natural gas that limit generation within the state.

A fairly large number of units in Florida have the ability to switch between petroleum and natural gas. These units generally rely on natural gas to generate electricity, which is significantly cheaper than oil under recent market conditions. However, Florida's geographic isolation can lead to deliverability problems if and when pipelines that bring natural gas down the peninsula either fill to capacity or face disruption. Under such circumstances, switchable units may burn oil.

The flexibility to switch between fuels is a key reason the levels of petroleum-capable capacity have remained fairly steady in isolated electric systems like Florida and New England, despite the declining use of these units as shown in EIA's monthly statistics.

The share of nuclear generation in Florida decreased in 2009 after the long-term shutdown (and ultimate retirement announced in February 2013) of the Crystal River unit, located 80 miles north of Tampa. Coal-fired generation has also declined since 2001 because of the retirement of a few small coal-fired units.

map of fuel switching capacity between natural gas and petroleum, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, EIA-860 Annual Electric Generator Report
Note: Only electric power sector power plants that are not combined heat and power are displayed. Capacity is aggregated to the power plant level.

Principal contributor: M. Tyson Brown