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Florida's Rebates and Retrofits Approved

image credit: ID 952620 © Scott Pehrson | Dreamstime.com

Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) conducted a hearing Tuesday to decide whether they should scale back energy efficiency programs for the state’s biggest power companies – including Tampa Electric and Duke Energy Florida. Previously, the PSC recommended rejecting the demand-side management (DMS) plan as presented to them by TECO, Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, and Gulf Power.  The commission took issue with the cost effectiveness of utility programs and felt the targets on initial plans were too low.  Consumer advocacy groups said that with the ongoing pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout, conservation and rate impact are even more imporant this summer.  Maintaining a strong position on the matter, Zelalem Adefris, VP of policy and advocacy with Miami Catalyst, said, “It makes absolutely no sense to me, particularly in the times and situation that we’re in with COVID-19 as people are asked to shelter in place, that we would scale back energy efficiency programs…” Miami Catalyst is a nonprofit organization focused on anti-poverty efforts. According to research performed by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), low-income households live in less efficient housing and devote a greater portion of their income to utility bills than do higher-income households.

Last year, Florida Power & Light wrote to PSC commissioners that “the importance of pursuing conservation programs must be balanced against the cost and the impact of such cost on rate payers. The Commission must not overlook rate impact as it evaluates conservation goals and programs.”  Proposals to lower their energy efficiency goals have been presented by the utilities in the past.  These proposals have been denied and sometimes approved from year to year. What’s different this year?  COVID-19.  Not to mention, hurricane season.  In 2017, Hurricane Irma left 90 percent or 4.4 million of FP&L’s customers without power.  Normally, Florida Power & Light relied on reinforcements from other states.  This year that may not be an option.  The unsavory outcome would be longer periods without power before restoration. Also, due to the importance of social distancing, evacuation may become the last resort instead of the first plan of action during an emergency.  FP&L is adapting their response plans this season.  CEO Eric Silagy said, “The pandemic is going to impact us in ways that aren’t helpful because it creates less productivity…”  The uncertainty about out-of-state support, the need for skeleton crews and new procedures adds another challenge.  Utilities will need to rely more heavily on smart grid technology such as artificial intelligence and drones to complete restoration work.  Will disaster preparedness and response funds rob expansion plans for energy efficiency programs?  How will utilities prioritize their efforts?  

Florida state regulators approved the utilities’ plans at Tuesday’s hearing.  Several of those programs should help low-income customers save money on their power bills.  Duke Energy’s program assists qualifying customers to make their homes more energy efficient.  They will also offer rebates for air conditioning.  Florida Power & Light’s program will help retrofit low-income customers’ homes and provide air conditioning tests and repairs.  Tampa Electric will go a step further with plans to educate customers about renewable energy systems and electrical vehicle charging. Concluding the hearing, commissioners directed staff to begin a rule-making process that would streamline the divided energy efficiency plans.  Hopefully, they can agree on execution.

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