Environmental advocates want something done about the pollution emanating from the JEA Northside Generating Station, and the utility may have given them a path toward getting that accomplished.
A collaborative effort, Renew Jax seeks to leverage the position of the JEA Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Stakeholder Group to create a timetable to decommission the Northside plant and commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050 — 30% by 2030. The IRP is akin to a master plan for JEA’s future.
“Climate change and rising waters are undermining the health of our river, our community and our economy,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said recently at a meeting to discuss the effort. “It’s critical we all do our part now to tackle the growing issues of climate change, and protect our waterways for the future of Northeast Florida.”
The Northside plant has notoriously high emissions and sits amid the ecologically fragile and important marshlands connecting Duval and Nassau counties, not far from the entrance to the St. Johns River.
Rinaman said Logan Cross, Chairman of the Northeast Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, will spearhead the Renew Jax effort. The campaign is seeking renewable energy and Northside decommissioning commitments from both JEA and the Jacksonville city government. They note a dozen other Florida cities have already committed to 100% renewable energy use by 2050.
“We view the word ‘renew’ as applying to the city itself,” Cross said. “If Jacksonville was to make such a commitment as committing to 100% renewable energy by 2050, that would be a bold step for Jacksonville.”
That sort of move could be transformative for the city’s culture as well, he noted.
Along with 30% renewables by 2030, the Renew Jax campaign seeks 5% rooftop solar by that time, double what exists currently. The Northside plant also has a 2030 decommissioning deadline.
“We really think that if they make that leap (to 30% renewables in eight years) … the next few years will be a cakewalk,” Cross said.
The ease will be because technology is making renewables cheaper than fossil fuels, after the heavier lifting of transitioning to a new energy source. JEA already stated its intention to be 30% carbon-neutral by 2030.
“If we’re talking, we’re looking at this from an environmental perspective, or we’re looking at it with a jobs perspective, from JEA, or our community economic perspective, the way we go about this is taking steps now,” Rinaman said.
“These are reasonable, responsible steps, and that’s why this plan is so critical. If we don’t start taking those steps now, we’re not going to get where we need to be by 2050.”
The target date for approving the IRP is in January 2023, and the approved plan is expected to last around 10-15 years before JEA has to go through the process again. It’s basically the last chance for the public to have a major impact on JEA policy for at least the next decade.
“The important thing for us to stress is they should not replace (the Northside Generating Station) with a new natural gas plant,” Cross said. “Why is that so important? A new natural gas plant will be a 30-to-40-year investment. They will almost have to run it until it runs out of gas, until it runs out of its capability, to get their money out of it.”
Once the IRP is approved in January, the focus will change to the City Council.
“Our hope though,” Cross said, “is we have ammo to go to the City Council and say, ‘Why don’t you show that Jacksonville is a more responsible, socially minded city by committing to 100% renewable energy?’”
Both the Northeast Florida group of the Sierra Club and the St. Johns Riverkeeper are members of the IRP Stakeholder Group. JEA said in a statement that it appreciates the community engagement in this process.
“From solar power to biomass and methane gas, JEA is diversifying our electric generation to include a variety of renewable energy sources,” according to the statement. “JEA has reduced its carbon emissions by 53 percent since 2007 with the closing of St. Johns Power Park in 2018 and the unit we co-owned at (Georgia’s) Plant Scherer in January 2022.”