Interesting Fact: Did you know the Eiffel Tower was never meant to be a permanent structure? It was built for the 1889 World’s Fair and was intended to stand for 20 years only. Everyone assumed Parisians would regard the massive steel structure as an eyesore so it was originally slated to be dismantled and scrapped in 1909. But, somewhere along the way, Paris and the world fell in love with the looming tower and the Eiffel Tower has since become one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.
Which brings us to our Apollo Beach TECO Stacks…
Love them or hate them, they are familiar and ever present.
Several weeks ago I asked South Shorians, through various local Facebook pages, what they considered to be the most recognizable landmark in our area. The TECO Stacks, hands down, came up the winner. Then I asked what people most wanted to know about the Stacks.
As it turns out, South Shorians had lots of questions about our Stacks, from interesting to slightly humorous. To get some answers I reached out to Tampa Electric Company – aka TECO.
A quick lesson in the TECO Stacks: Unit + Scrubber + Steam + Stack (there will be no quiz)
Unit – The coal burning system.
Scrubber – In essence, a scrubber is a shower of wet limestone slurry (you won’t find that kind of shower at any spa) that removes the S02 (sulfur dioxide) that’s produced when the coal is burned. The scrubbing process creates a steam.
Stack – The tall structure that carries the steam into the atmosphere. The steam is what we see coming out of the top of the stacks.
My conversation with TECO…
Ron Bishop, the Director of TECO’s Big Bend Power Station, was kind enough to sit down with me to answer some of South Shore’s most burning TECO Stack questions. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Q: When were the Stacks built?
A: The first Stack was built in 1969. Stacks #2 and #3 were built in the mid-1970’s and the fourth unit came in 1985 – also the same time people started noticing heaps of manatees converging in the area – and the Manatee Viewing Center was created.
Q: How tall are the stacks?
A: About 500’. To help you visualize, 500’ is a bit more than one and a half football fields, or the equivalent of a 50 story building. Yes, each stack has a small elevator because nobody is climbing those stairs.
Q: What are the stacks made of?
A: Concrete with steel liners.
Q: Why is one of them red and white striped?
A: The striped stack is the oldest, from 1969. Striped stacks were the norm at that time in Florida and throughout the U.S.
Q: Why are only some of the stacks in use at any given time?
A: The red and white stack, the grand-daddy, is no longer in service and will likely be removed in the future. You’ll never see steam coming from it. As for the three stacks that are used, there are only two scrubbers so not all stacks are used simultaneously.
Q: What is the booming noise that we can occasionally hear from the Big Bend Station?
A: Sometimes TECO needs to shut a unit down for maintenance (like a regular oil change in your car). Before workers can go inside the ‘slag’ build-up needs to be cleaned out. Slag is a razor-sharp substance. It looks like black glass icicles and clings to the inside walls. We use shot gun shells or dynamite to bring the slag icicles (slag-cicles – not sold on any ice cream truck) down so workers can go inside safely. We then sell the slag as a byproduct. It’s used in asphalt and for sand blasting.
Q: Does TECO still use ‘pigs?’ Several people mentioned they used to find these small plastic balls on the beach at the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, but no longer see them.
A: Well, this is great news. TECO does still use ‘pigs’, but we have a great system in place now that captures them so they don’t wind up on the beach or in the Bay.
Q: What are ‘pigs’?
A: ‘Pigs’ are rubber plastic balls used to clean the condensers, whose job is to cool the steam down. Marine life grows in these condenser tubes and can potentially block them. Plastic ‘pigs’ are blown through the tubes to remove the marine growth and the condensers can continue to cool the steam efficiently.
Q: Why did the manatee start coming in the mid-1980’s when the plant was built in the 70’s?
A: The manatee visited the TECO station earlier, but when the fourth unit was built in the mid-80’s we began to see many more and TECO decided to open the Manatee Viewing Center. Each unit discharges warm water into the Bay. It’s the warm water that attracts the manatees in winter.
Q: What is the dark dust we all find on our lanai furniture?
A: TECO is sensitive to this situation and we’ve installed massive sprinkler systems that wet down the coal piles so the coal dust does not blow as much. We also keep the coal piles smaller than we used to. This also reduces the dust. Weather and wind, of course, can be a factor but we have reduced the coal dust.
Q: What are the dust-minimizers, also called the super heroes that go after ‘fugitive emissions’?
A: TECO has gone to great lengths to reduce emissions and coal dust, by using various systems. Last year the EPA monitored TECO and did a study on our ‘fugitive’ dust. The results were very positive. TECO’s efforts are working and the EPA was happy with the results. Of course, we continue to monitor emissions and look for new and better ways to keep the coal dust to a minimum.
Q: The South Shore area and population is exploding. How does TECO plan to keep up with demand?
A: In fact, all of TECO’s power stations serve all of our customers, so the South Shore area gets power from all of our stations. We are also expanding our Polk Power Plant in January 2017 to keep up with growing demand. To help keep costs down for our customers we’re also burning some gas at the Big Bend Station, a lower cost option since gas prices have come down.
Q: Does TECO have plans to bring solar power to South Shore?
A: TECO already has several solar projects throughout the Tampa area including the Tampa International Airport, Legoland, the Lowry Zoo and the Manatee Viewing Center. We’ve also recently announced our largest solar project to date – right here in Apollo Beach. Later this spring we’re building a 23-megawatt facility that will have more than 200,000 solar panels that can power up to 3,300 homes. It will be located on 125 acres just south of the Big Bend Station between Dickman Road and Hwy. 41. It’s really our first utility-scale solar facility, which is exciting for South Shore and the entire Tampa area.
Q: Are there plans to paint, or beautify, the Stacks (our somewhat humorous question – that many people asked)?
A: Well, Colleen, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think they look pretty good now and our intent is to keep the Stacks neutral, so they blend in.
Me: Yes, neutral is always a safe choice!
Thank you, Ron Bishop!
Some Final Thoughts: I have to agree. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, while the Stacks may not meet the definition of drop-dead gorgeous, they’re certainly recognizable, serve an important purpose and scream ‘I am home’ when you see them from the airplane as you circle to land at Tampa International.
TECO is also a generous South Shore corporate citizen. Of course, they bring us power and, let’s face it, we all really like air conditioning and ice, but they’ve also brought some incredible facilities to South Shore.
In addition to the Manatee Viewing Center, which attracts people from around the world, TECO has partnered with The Florida Aquarium and The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to bring the new Florida Conservation and Technology Center to Apollo Beach (Dickman Road). This new facility, recently opened, will house the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (summer camps, education programs and more), opening in 2017, as well as an incredible research facility, sea turtle hospital and adult education programs (currently under construction), due to open in the next 3-5 years).