ORLANDO-Three multimillion-dollar utility projects are preparing to come off the drawing boards at about the same time in this Central Florida market. The ventures will generate an estimated 500 new construction jobs and trigger new area retail sales, according to local economic development boards.

In the newest announcement, Orlando Utilities Commission and Southern Co. of Atlanta plan to jointly build a $250 million, 632 megawatts natural gas-fired electric plant in southeast Orange County by yearend 2003. Charlotte-based Duke Energy is awaiting various government approvals in neighboring Lake County to construct a $180 million, natural gas-fueled plant on the outskirts of Eustis, FL, 32 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando.

And in Leesburg, FL, 45 miles northwest of Orlando, Panda Energy International proposes to use steam instead of natural gas for its $300 million facility. The Duke and Panda projects, like the OUC-Southern venture, envision plant openings in 2003, if all approvals are cleared. Construction on the OUC-Southern enterprise is tentatively set to start by September 2001. Southern would own 65 percent of the asset; OUC, 28 percent; the Kissimmee (FL) Utility Authority and a consortium of smaller utilities, 7 percent.

The surge in utility construction projects stems from pending federal and state regulations that would totally deregulate the power industry and allow utility companies to compete for customers. That competition is under way in several states but hasn’t begun yet in Florida.

OUC invited Southern into the project because the Atlanta firm buys materials in bulk for its ongoing plant construction jobs. Southern owns Alabama Power Co., Georgia Power Co., Mississippi Power Co. and Gulf Power Co. in the Florida Panhandle.

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