The apparent shift in the way we as a nation produce and provide power has been a steady source of news on our website's digital wire feed lately. First, the urge to go nuclear continues to simmer around the region. In mid-August, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and his Cabinet gave the green light to St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Progress Energy to proceed with its plans to build a nuclear plant in Levy County at a cost of more than $7 billion. Pennsylvania-based Westinghouse Electric and the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge, La., hold the contract.

The Tampa Tribune quickly editorialized that Gov. Crist made the right decision, stating: "Nuclear must be part of the energy inventory if Florida is to seriously reduce carbon emissions yet still meet the needs of some 18 million residents."

Meanwhile, existing nuclear power plants in Florida are undergoing significant upgrades that should boost their capacities significantly. In North Carolina, Charlotte-based Duke Energy is hoping to build a new nuclear plant, too, and even has a site picked out approximately 50 mi. from Charlotte. And in South Carolina, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. is sending teams of engineering personnel to China to observe their methods of constructing the same types of nuclear reactor units that it intends to install at its existing Jenkinsville facility.

The state of North Carolina has been examining other alternative sources of energy, too. Recently, the state legislature moved forward on a plan to allow the development of large-scale wind farms along North Carolina's coast, while restricting them in the mountain regions. At the same time, many of the state's utilities are begging for more time to meet the deadline requirements of a "poop-to-power" plan. Under the 2007 law, state utilities are required to generate a minimum amount of power from pig and chicken waste. The utilities say they've sought proposals for waste-to-energy projects, but have received only a few, expensive responses so far.

The brightest news may be in the field of solar power generation. The Winston-Salem Journal reported that SunEdison has started construction of what will be the country's largest photovoltaic solar farm, in Davidson Co., N.C. Work started approximately 15 months after Duke Energy announced it had signed an agreement with SunEdison to buy all of the solar farm's output for the next 20 years. And solar projects are either under way or about to start in Florida.

In fact, some are wondering if the industry is witnessing a dawn of utility-scale solar power generation. A report from Power Engineering cited four factors as pushing the latest solar developments: the renewal of federal tax credits for renewable energy projects; a drop in the cost of photovoltaics; renewable portfolio standards that many utilities need to meet; and, last but not least, "some creative thinking." ... Speaking of, one firm has earned a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy to develop solar panels that could be embedded into roads.

The latest developments don't seem to bode well for coal power plants. In fact, in South Carolina, Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, recently announced it was abandoning plans to build a $2.2-billion coal-fired power plant along the Great Pee Dee River in Florence County. The utility cited decreased energy demand and the potential for increased costs under a possible federal carbon tax. The utility's president and CEO Lonnie Carter stated: "The costs of the (carbon capture and sequestration) technology and the carbon tax are unknown and expected to be high, and this uncertainty causes great concern for Santee Cooper in considering future coal plants."

Finally, in South Florida, officials promoting the development of a more aesthetically pleasing stretch of U.S. 1, want FPL to push some power lines underground. The utility wants to install four new transmission lines, including one that would extend 18 miles along one stretch of U.S. 1. There's only one problem. It's considerably more expensive. According to FPL, above-ground transmission lines cost between $1.5 million and $2.5 million per mile. Underground would cost between $13.3 million and $18.5 million per mile.

For more power and energy news, stay tuned to Southeast Construction's digital wire.