JEA taking Power Park redevelopment steps

Site work to prep the 2,000-acre property for reuse is largely complete.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 12:05 a.m. December 26, 2023
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
The 2,000-acre St. Johns River Power Park in North Jacksonville housed a coal-fired power plant and the St. Johns River Coal Terminal. The plant was decommissioned.
The 2,000-acre St. Johns River Power Park in North Jacksonville housed a coal-fired power plant and the St. Johns River Coal Terminal. The plant was decommissioned.
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JEA is moving forward on plans to redevelop the city-owned utility’s St. Johns River Power Park in North Jacksonville for industrial use, CEO Jay Stowe said in a Dec. 15 interview.

Stowe said JEA is preparing to issue an invitation for companies to negotiate with the utility toward helping develop the 2,000-acre property, with the aim of being able to enter into an agreement in June.

“The invitation to negotiate will be open enough for people to give us some of their ideas on how it might be best used,” Stowe said. 

“One idea is that we hire and partner with a master developer that has developed things in other places and would be able to help build the facilities and the roads and the infrastructure and the elements that need to be put in place,” he said.

“Another idea is that we would sell pieces of property sections at a time. There’s a bunch of different options. But between now and June, we should be able to develop the full plan.”

Stowe said much of the site work needed for redevelopment of property has been completed.

“Everything’s been moved off of it, but there’s still a little bit of wetlands work that we need to do,” he said.   

The property once was home to a coal-fired power plant, the St. Johns River Coal Terminal and other parcels. It is northwest of JaxPort’s Blount Island Marine Terminal and near the St. Johns River. 

The plant started producing electricity in March 1987 and was shut down in January 2018. JEA reported that the closure of the plant, which consumed 4.5 million tons of coal per year, reduced its carbon footprint by 30%. Demolition of the 1,264-megawatt plant was completed in 2019. 

The property has a berth on the Jacksonville harbor channel as well as 6.2 miles of private on-site rail track with access to CSX Corp. Class I and Class II railroads. 

“It’s a very strong economic development piece of property that can support the community,” Stowe said. 

“It’s close to the port, it’s got rail access and interstate access, so we believe ultimately it can be something that has some sort of manufacturing or warehousing type activities on that property.”

In 2021, JEA halted a search for a master developer for the park in favor of reengaging JaxPort officials and other community leaders about redeveloping it. 

The decision to reengage came after JEA and JaxPort stopped coordination on the property in September 2020, when JaxPort revealed it was interested in acquiring the property but not in a proposal to engage with JEA in a joint venture to find a company to determine the best use of he property. 

JEA said that in September 2023, Stowe and members of the JEA real estate and economic development team met with JaxPort to discuss a redevelopment strategy.

No formal agreement was discussed, JEA reported, but JEA agreed to keep JaxPort updated on the issue. 

JEA also has updated the city of Jacksonville and the JAXUSA Partnership economic development division of JAX Chamber.

Stowe said he expects it could take up to 12 years to fully develop the property. 

Good forecast for fuel costs

In 2022, JEA customers saw their bills spike when global prices for natural gas, which JEA uses to generate the bulk of its electricity, increased sharply. 

JEA passes along the cost it pays for gas – known as a fuel cost – to customers. The costs went up due to several factors, including inflation and disruptions in the natural gas market caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The costs began coming back down in April 2023 and have either dipped or remained steady in the months since. In December, they hit $36.29 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of consumption, their lowest level since November 2021. That’s about the amount of electricity an average residential user uses per month. 

JEA is forecasting costs to remain in the low- to mid-$40 range during the winter months, then dip back into the $30s beginning in the spring.

Stowe said that to help avoid another spike, JEA had increased the amount of gas it pre-purchases at a locked-in rate. 

The utility also had pre-purchased gas before the spike, but a smaller amount. At that time, he said, there had been relatively little fluctuation in prices.

“In the next year, we’ve got a substantial percentage of our costs already set so we can stabilize those rates,” he said.

Volatility in fuel costs also will be eased for JEA by nuclear and new solar generation systems coming online.  

Why a base-rate increase

Jacksonville area residents often hear how they’re living in one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation. 

So why is the JEA angling toward a base-rate increase in 2024, when new customers – and the new revenue they’re generating – are pouring into the city-owned utility?

Stowe answered that question, but first some background on the increase.  

On Jan. 30, the JEA board is scheduled to call for a rate increase that would amount to $3.50 a month for a typical residential ratepayer and about 3% to the monthly bills of commercial and industrial customers. 

The increase would then be subject to a rate hearing Feb. 27, followed by a board vote March 26. 

If adopted, the rate adjustments would take effect for customers April 1.

Many JEA customers are aware that the utility wants to raise revenue to help cover the cost of purchasing electricity from the Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, but there’s more to the issue than that.

The factors include, perhaps ironically, the increasing energy efficiency of homes and appliances that has reduced the energy usage of JEA’s customers. 

So while Northeast Florida keeps adding residents, Stowe said, the amount of energy being sold by JEA hasn’t increased with the population. In fact, it’s been flat since 2008.

“If you’ve replaced a refrigerator or an air conditioner or heat pump, they are more efficient than the one you had before,” he said.

“You can’t buy a 100-watt incandescent lightbulb anymore; they’re all LED now. And so there certainly are a lot of new customers using energy, but it’s being offset by energy efficiency.”

Meanwhile, Stowe said, JEA is under a long-term agreement to purchase power from Vogtle at about $250 million per year over the next 20 years. 

That cost, which reflects delays and large cost overruns in the construction of the $35 billion plant, amounts to about 20% of what JEA spends on the energy it delivers despite providing only 10-11% of JEA’s power supply to local customers.

In 2023, JEA raised its basic monthly charge to $15 from $5.50. In July, Vogtle began delivering electricity to Jacksonville for the first time. 

“The good news is it’s carbon-free, clean energy,” Stowe said. 

“It’ll be positive for us in the longer haul, but in the next couple of years we’re going to have to have increases. (These will be) relatively small, near-inflation-level increases.”



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