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Florida regulators reject utilities' proposed energy efficiency goals

Tampa Bay Times

In a rare rebuke to Florida’s major utilities, state regulators rejected plans on Tuesday that would have let them all but eliminate programs that help their customers save energy.

They later sided with utilities, setting the stage for a process that would allow the industry to charge its customers for hardening the grid from storms by spending as much as $50 billion burying power lines.

Florida Public Service Commission member Julie Brown, a Tampa lawyer, urged her colleagues to maintain existing energy efficiency goals by continuing to offer savings programs for customers. The vote was 4 to 1.

The proposal by the utilities was "a drastic reduction in our state in conservation efforts, and I frankly do not believe it’s what the customers want,’’ Brown said. “I don’t believe it’s in the public interest.”

Florida’s state’s five investor-owned utilities, which include Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co., are required to submit goals every five years outlining how much energy they expect to save through programs that push for customers to reduce their power consumption and make energy-efficient upgrades to homes and businesses.

Programs include such things as rebates for LED light bulbs and more energy-efficient appliances.

Earlier this year, utilities submitted what environmental advocates called “zero” goals for the next five years. Duke Energy asked to drop its target for reducing energy consumption though conservation by 15 percent to save just 166 gigawatt hours. Florida Power & Light, which serves much of South Florida, requested a 99 percent decrease to 1.03 gigawatt hours. Tampa Electric was the only utility to propose increasing its goal by 14 percent, to 165 gigawatt hours.

Utilities argue that energy efficiency is already met through customer-led initiatives and modern building standards, and that it wouldn’t be cost effective for utilities to continue aiding customers’ conservation efforts.

Brown disagreed Tuesday.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me to have zero goals,” she said. “It’s like running a marathon at zero miles per hour. You’re never going to make it to the finish line.”

The commission rejected its staff recommendation and agreed to push the Legislature to modernize the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, which outlines the utilities’ requirements for energy efficiency goal setting.

While reverting to the 2014 goals might seem like a boost, those figures are what’s left after a 90-percent slashing of earlier goals. The decision by the Public Service Commission at the time, which Brown was a part of, was seen as a “gutting” the goals.

Tuesday’s vote was a rare rejection of a utility request. The commission has long been accused of being beholden to the wealthy companies it regulates, and often rules in the industry’s favor.

The Public Service Commission faced significant scrutiny, as rallying efforts by environmental advocates resulted in 2,000 letters being sent to regulators criticizing the plan, according to the commission. “Many” of the letters, spokeswoman Cindy Muir said, were either duplicate letters or sent by the same individuals. Letter writers included utility customers and representatives from several cities and municipalities.

One of the primary concerns of the three commissioners who did not support the utilities’ proposed goals was that the method that the state uses to determine whether a program is cost effective is outdated and not used by many other states.

Duke Energy released a statement afterward saying it would work with regulators going forward on conservation targets.

“Duke Energy is looking forward to working with the Florida Public Service Commission on the energy conservation goals," the statement read. "The company will be evaluating today’s decision and how it impacts the current programs. Ultimately Duke Energy’s goal is to provide the best programs for our customers.”

Environmental groups considered the decision a win.

“It was a victory today to have the commissioners reject ... the zero or near-zero goals,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It was a testament to the public outcry and pressure that was felt with a number of letters to the (commission) to set meaningful goals.”

The commission’s second major vote of the day, board members approved a series of rules that will allow companies to submit storm protection plans for review and approval every three years and pass along the cost to customers on their monthly bills. The vote was unanimous.

Customers won’t know how much their bills will rise, however, until the rules are implemented and hearings are held, likely next year.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.


(c)2019 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

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Rick Chalker's picture
Rick Chalker on Nov 8, 2019 6:04 pm GMT

I am very disappointed in the FPSC and their political stance along with the self-interests of organizations that purport to be for the disadvantaged. The comment that they are "concerned with negative impacts of high energy burdens on Latinos and other front-line communities in the state," is a bunch of hot air. What don't these organizations understand about the calcualtions that go into determining whether an "energy efficiency" program is in the best interests of "ALL" customers, not just the rich or the disadvantaged. The calculations are based on many variables that determines whether a certain "energy efficiency" program is the least cost option. The recent calculations prove that the cost of almost all energy efficiency programs do not cost less than the natural gas and solar power plants being built. So, rather than reducing electric rates because fuel costs are declining, they are demanding paying higher costs for "energy efficiency" programs. I am not sure who the winners are here, except for the vested interest non-profits and other vested interest organizations.

"Communities throughout the State have been demanding more robust goals", states the article. Where have these people been since the late 70's when the conservation programs first began in Florida. FPL has, over the years, had some of the most robust "energy conservation/energy efficiency" programs in the country and has been a leader in reducing energy demand by thousands of mW.

This article has a statement that indicates the real purpose of these organizations, "We need robust and meaningful energy efficiency goals to help lower costs for families already dealing with the impacts of dirty energy production, heat stress, flooding, severe weather phenomena, and other climate change related impacts". The opposition toward lowering costs by doing the RIGHT thing is driven by their ulterior motive of changing the world because of something they cannot explain by calling it climate change. Where is the dirty energy production in Florida? If you have heat stress, let me suggest a possible move to Nevada, Texas or some other state where temperatures in the summer are well above those in Florida. Flooding is nothing new to Florida but has been exaserbated by governments that have allowed homes to be built where they should not be built and not building infrastructure along with the new construction. What can one say about severe weather and climate change other than, GO BACK AND STUDY HISTORY. Earth's history proves that climate change has been going on since the beginning of time and it is not going to stop because we throw money at it willy nilly. 

This article states, "Floridians have some of the highest energy bills in the country and energy efficiency is the best way to give Florida families some relief". If this was the arguement used by these organizations the FPSC should be ashamed of their decision. Statistics prove that FPL's rates are over 30% below the national average and well below states with similar population. And FPL just announced another cost reduction because of the solar projects they are building in FLorida. FPL has one of the cleanest energy profiles in the country and by 2030 will generate more solar power that any other state. Don't treat all utilities the same when it will cost customers of FPL more in the long run.

The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) rejected its own staff recommendations to adopt energy efficiency goals of zero and voted to maintain the states current energy conservation goals through 2025. It behooves the FPSC to not become the pawns of the vested interest non-profits and other vested interest organizations which are more interested in fighting superior run utilities to keep donations coming into their organizations so they can keep getting paid.

The FPSC should reconsider this action and do the right thing for ALL the people of Florida.

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