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Yesterday, Duke Energy announced that it was permanently closing the Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant located in Crystal River, Florida (on the west coast between Tampa and Gailnesville). The 860 MW plant was originally built in 1977 by Florida Progress Corporation, which was then bought by Carolina Power & Light to form Progress Energy, which was then bought by Duke Energy in 2012.
In 2009, the owners attempted to increase the power output of the plant by 20%. But their botched effort cracked the containment vessel in three places, causing enough damage that fixing it would probably cost more than building a new power plant. This old plant, one of the 14 worst managed in the country, has now been retired after 36 years.
So how should the replacement power required by Florida consumers be generated? The utility is considering building a gas-fired power plant. But now, as the dire effects of climate change on low-lying coastal areas have become crystal clear, is an excellent time for Florida to expand efforts to insulate buildings and use solar energy instead.
Many homes and buildings in Florida are heated in the winter and cooled in the summer with electricity. Landscaping for sun control, controlling ventilation, and tightening building envelopes — increasing the amounts of insulation, using double-pane glass, and adding weatherstripping — could cut this load significantly. Every building in Florida should also have a solar water heater — an easy and cost-effective measure.
Now would also be a great time to mount photovoltaic solar cells on the exposed roofs of commercial buildings throughout the Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Ocala, Daytona Beach, and Gainesville areas. The biggest electrical load in Florida in the summer comes from air conditioning, which peaks every sunny day at the time of greatest sunshine. With its vast solar resources, Florida should be in the forefront of solar photovoltaic installations, but countries like Germany (25,000 megawatts (MW) installed capacity in 2011) that are located in far northern latitudes are installing more. In 2011, Florida was ranked 9th among the states for photovoltaics with only 95 MW cumulatively installed. The Province of Ontario in Canada installed almost three times this much — 270 MW of photovoltaics — just in 2011.
From the electric utility's perspective, energy efficiency measures and solar can be licensed and deployed relatively quickly — much faster than building a large conventional power plant.