By: Max Crampton Thomas
4 min read February 2020 — As the Tampa Bay region continues to grow both in population size and new developments, the need for access to more energy and cleaner energy solutions grows with it. Invest: spoke with the leaders of two of the main sources of energy for the region and their innovative approach to creating cleaner energy solutions. T.J. Szelistowski serves as the president for Peoples Gas, which has provided Florida residents and businesses with reliable, environmentally-friendly, economical natural gas products and service since 1895. Nancy Tower leads Tampa Electric as its president and CEO. The utility has served the Tampa Bay area for 120 years, with more than 5,000MW of generating capacity.
How is your company innovating in terms of technology?
T.J. Szelistowski: The last time we spoke, we discussed implementing gas-fired heat pumps that use natural gas instead of electricity for air conditioning. We are working with several customers on installations of this technology. Additionally, we have installed the technology in three of our facilities and have been pleased with the performance.
In terms of other technologies, we are targeting farming and waste facilities that release methane into the air. Our environmental solution is to capture that methane and clean it up to reinject it into the system. This not only provides a cleaner form of natural gas but also reduces methane emissions. We look forward to announcing some significant projects with this technology in the near future.
Nancy Tower: We believe battery storage is a part of our energy future. The technology is new, and we’re not ready to deploy that on a large scale until we figure out the true impact it will have on our system. We have put in place a battery storage project this year near our Big Bend solar project, which will give us really good information on how solar and battery storage interacts with our system. We’re really looking at how we can integrate battery storage into the complexity of the renewable energy ecosystem.
In other technologies, we are also in the middle of a large-scale installation of smart meters, which provide a lot more information and allow us to provide customers with superior service.
Why has investment in cleaner, more renewable energy and environmental sustainability been such a focus for your company?
Szelistowski: Natural gas is the perfect partner to renewable solar energy to provide capacity when the sun is not shining and to ensure energy is available to customers around the clock. Additionally, natural gas can provide great environmental benefits by replacing diesel fuel usage in large vehicles, such as buses and waste-management trucks.
A variety of ships are starting to convert to natural gas because of changing environmental regulations, specifically IMO 2020, which slashes permissible levels of sulfur permitted in fuel for seaborne vessels to minimal levels and opens the door for liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative.
Tower: The biggest factor is that customers want it. When thinking back over the last few years, the number of people focused on a cleaner environment has increased exponentially. This is symbolic of the focus citizens and our customers have on environmental stewardship, and that is not going away. We are very happy with our progress.
I think it’s our obligation on behalf of customers to demonstrate that clean energy is not only our responsibility in terms of an environmental perspective, but also from a cost perspective. We are focused on both of those things simultaneously. As the entity generating electricity, we have the responsibility of doing that in the most responsible way.
How would you respond to the argument that clean energy is not yet cost-effective or readily available?
Szelistowski: Natural gas interstate transmission pipelines are relatively new to Florida compared with the Northeast, having been introduced only in the 1950s. In addition, natural gas is a primary source of space heating in many parts of the country. With limited space heating in Florida, natural gas is primarily used for cooking, water heating and clothes drying in addition to industrial uses. We see a great desire for natural gas by people who have moved from other parts of the country and have enjoyed using natural gas in the past.
In terms of misconceptions, people do not realize the widespread availability of natural gas in Florida. Additionally, they may not realize the affordable nature of home and business use of natural gas. With low and steady gas prices, natural gas provides a great alternative to both business and homes.
Tower: It is our job to ensure that our generation portfolio is the most cost-effective for customers. Over the long term, we have carried out extensive cost modeling to ensure we can meet these expectations. In the next number of years, we will add more solar capacity and our generation will include more small-scale methods combined with battery storage. This doesn’t come without hard work and we need to find the right ways to keep costs low. This involves finding the right land close to our transmission infrastructure, ensuring suppliers are providing competitive prices and efficient cost management. Costs have come down, but we need to ensure we tightly manage this.