Karen’s Insights from her Duke Energy Tour in St. Pete

I was given an insight on both what it takes to generate electricity and learned a lot about energy sustainability when Creating Smiles Dental was invited by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce to tour the Duke Energy Weeden Island Power Plant. I see even more that Solar Energy is the way of the future but I had no idea it was so close to becoming a reality! Right now there are 2,100 business and private homes in Pinellas which are already using solar energy. The Weedon Island Plant does not utilize much solar energy, but I was impressed that it does use what are called biomass renewables.  These include trash, wood pallets, tires, recycled material from the recycling plants etc. Right now Biomass renewables make up 2.2 % of the energy at our St. Petersburg plant. This may not seem like a lot, but it’s much better than those things sitting in landfills. It made me proud that Duke Energy is doing its part and is right here in St. Petersburg.

Part of the reason that Duke Energy is not a fully powered by solar energy is that the current location is not sufficient. A new energy plant will need to be located on a large parcel of land, approx. 7,200 acres and the land would need to be near an interconnection, close to a substation in order to sustain itself on solar renewable energy. Since this is not readily available in Pinellas County, Duke is looking north in the state to acquire the land needed. The advantages of solar energy are 1) no fuel costs and 2) emission fee energy. The challenge of solar energy is that the sunshine is not a continual source due to clouds, humidity, rain, and how the days get shorter in the winter. Natural Gas will be the back-up to the solar energy plant.

Duke Energy St. Petersburg has already been converted to using all natural gas. To contrast, Teco,across Tampa Bay, is still coal powered. Natural Gas is inexpensive. In order to be able to efficiently implement solar energy, the cost of the set up needs to come down. Duke is working on solar energy on a small scale. The cost of solar energy is decreasing right now at a rate of 14% a year. China is the leading manufacturer of solar panels. I was surprised to learn that the reason for the lower cost of manufacturing the solar energy supplies is not the cost of less expensive labor. China is buying the materials in bulk and they are making millions of solar panels at a time. China’s labor is only slightly less than it is here in the USA. While this technology is being improved and is becoming more cost effective so implementation is on the horizon, we as consumers are simultaneously making more of a positive impact then I was aware. The Weeden Island business growth has been constant until recently. The growth is steady at about 1% because people are conserving and getting used to living with less. Also efficiency appliances make a measurable and significant improvement in saving power. I learned that the LED light bulbs are incredibly efficient. I’m going to go and pick some up to test for myself. St. Pete is a great place to live and work. I’m happy I was able to learn so much being able to represent Creating Smiles Dental and attend this tour.

Learning about how to generate electricity was not the focus of the tour. The sustainability of the energy we use all day and night long was so eye opening and exciting. I feel like that was one big pep rally and I’m proud of my city and of all of the renewable efficient energy options we are using and how it just keeps getting better! Being a part of the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce has educational perks.

Karen, our scheduling coordinator, recounts what she learned from her “field trip,” as she called it, with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 15th, 2015.