St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (pg. 9)  [Printer-friendly version]
October 13, 2006


By Jonathan Abel

Cecil D. Davis IV is staking his campaign for City Council on one idea: He wants the city to build a 250-megawatt cogeneration power plant in south Brooksville at a cost of about $500-million.

The plant, he said, could quickly bring in as much as $100-million a year and lead to a dramatic decrease in the city's property tax rate.

"We've got to look outside of the box," said Davis, 26, "and stop looking to taxpayers to foot the bill."

While the power plant proposal has many unanswered questions, including location, the general plan is to take advantage of federal laws that encourage cogeneration production.

A cogeneration plant is one where the electricity is produced as a byproduct. In Florida, there are trash incinerators, chemical plants and citrus processing operations that require heat or steam. Instead of blowing off the extra heat or steam, the cogeneration plants use it to make electricity.

It's a way of turning waste products into valuable power. Federal law provides strong incentives by requiring power companies to purchase the excess electricity, under certain conditions.

"The utilities have to buy the electricity back at full avoided cost," said Jim Dean of the Florida Public Service Commission. That means the price the power company would have to pay if it wanted to generate that power itself.

At 250 megawatts, Davis' proposed power plant could supply 150,000 households. That's well more than the city of 7,700 requires, but that's the whole point.

Excess equals profit in Davis' equation. He says the city could sell as much as $100-million a year. Davis wants the city to take out a half-billion-dollar loan to pay for it.

"It sounds like he has a very ambitious plan, but his numbers seem a little high," said Cherie Jacobs, spokeswoman for Progress Energy Florida. She added that there weren't enough details to say whether it was feasible.

Progress Energy currently buys 800 megawatts a year from various cogeneration plants around Florida, at an annual cost of $350-million.

Davis' plant would be unusual, however, in that most cogeneration plants are founded primarily for industrial processes and the electricity is only incidental; his would be designed primarily to generate electricity. The cogeneration label, he said, was a way to take advantage of the law. He has yet to decide which businesses in Brooksville could be potential partners with the plant.

Lara Bradburn, his opponent in the City Council race, said she was skeptical about the proposal and its $500-million price tag.

"A plan of this magnitude should be researched very carefully," she said. "That's an awful lot of debt."

Davis sketched out the plans to a reporter while sitting in his south Brooksville office. He wasn't sure how much wattage the plant would have, so he picked up the phone.

"I came up with the plan," he said after a short call to get the answer, "but my father knows more about power plants."

Davis owns and runs Cecil Davis Enterprises, a metal fabrication company on Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard in Brooksville. Before that, he worked as manager of Hungry Howie's Pizza and Subs in Brooksville and Sbarro in St. Augustine.

The schedule for the plan is very fast:

* Step 1: Get City Council approval. He said that will take a year.

* Step 2: Get the federal government to sign off on it. He calls that a "rubber stamp" process because of the cogeneration label.

* Step 3: Construction. He thinks 12 to 18 months.

* Step 4: Get the plant up and running. At $100-million annual revenue, the plant could pay for itself in five years, Davis said, and the council would be able to drop the millage from its current 7.5 to as low as 3.5.

Davis said he was inspired to talk about the cogeneration plant when Mayor Joseph E. Johnston III came out with his own plan for industrial growth in south Brooksville. In May, Johnston suggested relocating 500 or so mostly black residents of south Brooksville and putting a 100-acre industrial park in their neighborhood.

Davis said he is looking at several possible sites on the south side of the city.

Asked about the two plans, Johnston said the main difference was in emphasis.

"What do you do with the housing for the people who are relocated? That's the main thing I'm focusing on," he said. "Whatever is put in there is easier."

Johnston's proposal has received only a few minutes of public discussion since it was introduced. He hopes to bring it up at a council meeting sometime before he leaves office in December, but he's not sure if that's possible.

Davis, on the other hand, said he won't accept such slow progress with his proposal. "Expect to see it the very first time I sit on council."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or (352) 754-6114.