TAMPA, Fla. — Environmentalists are asking the state not to approve a multi-million dollar upgrade at a Hillsborough County power plant.

  • Planned TECO Energy upgrade at Big Bend site to cost $850 million
  • TECO says upgrade will allow more clean energy use in the future
  • Environmentalists claim new unit would burn twice as much coal
  • More Hillsborough County stories

TECO says the $850 million renovation would phase out one of its four coal-burning units at the Big Bend site in Apollo Beach and replace it with a new one that could only burn natural gas. The utility says this is part of an overall plan to use more clean energy in the future. 

But a group of environmentalists led by the Sierra Club says TECO is lying about those plans and the new unit would burn twice as much coal, something a spokeswoman for TECO denies. 

The group held a rally in Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa Friday night to voice their opposition. 

"TECO is guilty of fraud of the community and cheating the community of its future," said Gonzalo Valdez, an organizer with the Sierra Club. "We hope they get the message loud and clear that the community is not in favor of this."

Cherie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the utility pushed back. 

"This project is a great benefit, not only to the community and our customers but also the environment," said Jacobs. "It's going to improve the land, air and water emissions from Big Bend. Tampa Electric is systematically stepping away from coal. We are becoming cleaner and greener and we have a commitment to solar energy."

Earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, urged Gov. DeSantis and his cabinet in a letter to "make a thorough review of Tampa Electric Company's (TECO) Big Bend project as required by the Power Plant Siting Act."

"The changes contemplated by TECO are so significant with the proposed doubling of the electrical output and the use of a different dirty fuel source - fracked natural gas - that TECO is thereby proposing a new plant," Castor said in the letter. Click HERE to read the full text.

DeSantis and members of his cabinet are slated to vote on the measure July 25. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups plan to hold a rally at the Governor's mansion in Tallahassee the day before the scheduled vote.