July 14, 2016

League creates FL SUN to promote local solar co-ops to negotiate solar discounts

Solar panelsSaying they face a “David and Goliath” fight against Florida’s utility giants in trying to bring rooftop solar energy collection to the Sunshine State, the League of Women Voters on Thursday announced the creation of a new organization that will form “solar co-ops” around the state to obtain bulk discounts for community-based solar installations.

The group, FL SUN, is a non-profit established to solicit competitive bids from local installers and provide individualized proposals for groups of homeowners that reflect the group discounts.

The first two projects are in St. Petersburg and Orlando, using a model begun a decade ago by Community Power Network, a national nonprofit that helps communities build and promote local renewable energy projects and policies, in Washington, D.C., Maryland and is now also active in West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio. FL SUN, which is financed by public and private grants, also has plans to quickly expand to Brevard, Volusia, Alachua and Sarasota counties and hopes to operate in more parts of the state.

“The League’s role is going to be one we’re very comfortable and familiar with — that’s education,” said Deirdre Macnab, chair of the League’s Natural Resources/Solar Action Group and a member of the 80-member Orlando co-op. “We are going to be helping citizens understand how they can save money and better conserve energy in their houses by putting on forums.” More here. 

 


July 07, 2016

Regulators give FPL approval to take a 1-year break from charging customers up front for nuke plant

Fpl plantThe Florida Public Service Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved a request from Florida Power & Light to take a one-year break from charging customers in advance for planning and construction of its proposed new nuclear power plant. 

The decision is expected to save customers $22 million in nuclear cost recovery fees that regulators typically approve to allow  the company FPL to charge customers for planning and construction of the company's proposed nuclear units at its Turkey Point site on Biscayne Bay. Since 2008, FPL has charged customers $282 million in advance for the construction, under the advanced nuclear cost recovery fee it helped to push through the Legislature in 2006.

The change translates to a savings of about 34 cents a month for customers that use 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, beginning on the January 2017 bill. Those savings, however, will be offset, if the commission approves a $1.33 billion, 26 percent increase, in base rates beginning in 2017, as FPL has requested.
 
The rate increase hearing is scheduled to begin in August. If approved, the customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month will see the base rate portion of his bill rise by $14.67 a month to $71.67, according to documents submitted to the PSC.

The decision to stop charging customers follows the decision by FPL to delay nuclear plan construction. After eight years of planning, FPL announced in April it was postponing construction on units 6 and 7 of its nuclear fleet until at least 2020. It said, however, it would continue to pursue a federal license that would clear the way for construction. The company has yet to receive federal approval to construct the plant. 

The delay means two next-generation reactors initially projected to go online as early as 2018 and 2020 likely would not fire up for perhaps another decade.

 

July 05, 2016

What percent of the electricity customers in the Sunshine State own a renewable system? Think tiny

Solar panels
Only one tenth of one percent of all Florida utility customers owned a renewable generating system in 2015, according to new data released Tuesday by the Florida Public Service Commission.

That number -- .11 percent -- while modest, is something to brag about -- according to a news release by the Florida Public Service Commission released on Tuesday. The commission touts the fact that of the 7.9 million utility customers in Florida, 11,626 of them operated customer-owned renewable energy systems -- a 36 percent increase over the 8,571 users in 2014. Those users include customers like Whole Foods,  Florida Museum of Natural History, Ace Hardware, and IKEA which have installed their own solar photovoltaic panels.

Solar PV panels continue to be the most popular renewable choice, the PSC said. Also increasing is the use of wind turbines and anaerobic digestion -- a multi-step process that uses microorganisms to break down organic material to form methane and carbon dioxide gases, which are then used to generate electricity.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, installed solar PV system prices dropped by nearly 12 percent in 2015 as utility companies and customers installed 41 megawatts of solar electric capacity in Florida last year. If you combine the solar PV systems owned by customers with the majority that is owned by the state's utilities, Florida ranks the state 14th in the country in installed solar capacity, the group said.

The PSC's policy has given the utility industry the advantage over customers and competitors when it comes to installing renewable systems. In December 2014, the PSC slashed its energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent at the behest of the utility industry, which argued rewarding customers to save energy was too expensive. The commission also ended the solar rebate program at the end of 2015.

The utilities sought the cuts to energy efficiency and the solar rebate programs by arguing that, with the decline in natural gas prices, it was cheaper for them to produce a kilowatt of electricity than to save it. As a regulated monopoly, the utilities are allowed to profit off the energy they produce, but they cannot make a profit if customers don't use their electricity.

Although Florida lags behind nearly a dozen smaller states in renewable generation, the PSC boasted about the increase in customer-owned utilities in a press release on Tuesday which said that "since 2008, the number of renewable systems has increased more than twenty-fold."

“Our rules assist customers who want to use renewables, and who also want to be connected to the grid,” said PSC Chairman Julie Brown, who was one of two votes against reducing energy efficiency goals. “We’ve helped accelerate renewable energy use without compromising service reliability.”

Here's how the numbers break down:

Continue reading "What percent of the electricity customers in the Sunshine State own a renewable system? Think tiny" »

June 01, 2016

Solar advocates join forces to promote Amendment 4 on Florida's August primary ballot

Solar panelsTwo solar energy groups are joining forces with the the hopes of providing some social media clarity to the now-cloudy state of the future of solar energy in Florida to advance Amendment 4. 

The measure, which proposes to give commercial property owners a tax break when they install renewable energy devices, comes before voters on the Aug. 30 primary ballot. There is no announced opposition to the effort but the groups want Floridians to know this is not the same proposal as the utility-industry proposal on the November ballot that is designed to protect their energy investments, not broaden the solar market to competition. The utility-funded group calls itself Consumers for Smart Solar.

The groups -- Florida for Solar and Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs -- launch the digital aspect of their education campaign today on Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites to spread word about the proposal.

Florida for Solar, is a non-profit advocacy organization formed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and headed up by his former aide, Chris Spencer. Brandes is one of the authors of the proposal.

The other group, Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs, is headed up by Tory Perfetti, and it will work with grassroots organizations, renewable industry supporters and advocates, and non-partisan players. It is an affiliate of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the organization that backed a rival amendment that failed to get on the November ballot.

SACE organized Floridians for Solar Choice and pushed its own amendment, only to be stymied when the utilities conducted a price war over petition gathering and they ended up in federal court suing their petition gathering vendor over billing practices.

That proposal, now intended for the 2018 ballot, would allow property owners to sign lease agreements with solar companies to finance and install equipment. Solar owners would then be allowed to generate and sell solar electricity to contiguous property owners, as well as to area utilities.

Meanwhile, the first question for voters is whether or not they want to support the August ballot measure. It already has the support of the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, The Nature Conservancy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. 

 

 

May 02, 2016

FPL estimates cost of cleaning up salt water plume headed for aquifer: $50 million, paid by customers

by @JenStaletovich

At a rare state Senate field hearing, Florida Power & Light defended its operation of the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point and its plans to contain the spread of an underground salt water plume.

For the first time, the utility also put a price tag on its ongoing clean-up efforts at the nuclear power plant on southern Biscayne Bay — an estimated $50 million this year alone.

FPL’s vice president of governmental affairs, Mike Sole, told a standing-room-only crowd at the Friday afternoon meeting in Homestead that the bill for that work would likely be passed along to customers.

The hearing, requested by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who is facing a tough race for the district that includes the sprawling plant, came amid increased scrutiny of the canals after a series of lawsuits and studies showing the super salty canals have leaked both east into Biscayne Bay and west toward underground drinking water supplies.

The utility has also been criticized for ignoring its own reports and acting too slowly to control the worsening plume.

In recent years, the salt front has advanced at about 600 feet per year in the region, Lee Hefty, chief of Miami-Dade County’s division of Environmental Resources Management told lawmakers. Story here. 

 

January 26, 2016

House rejects attempts to impose more testing and regulation on oil and gas fracking in Florida

Fracking PennThe Florida House smacked down a series of Democratic amendments aimed at weakening a bill that prohibits local governments from banning high pressure well stimulation known as fracking and positioned the bill for approval by the full House on Wednesday.

The amendments, by Reps. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, and Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, would have allowed local governments to regulate the activity, impose testing of water quality and water wells, study the effects of the fracking chemicals on human health, and require local voter approval before fracking activities being.

Fracking involves the pumping of large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using high pressure to recover oil and gas deposits.

The bill, HB 191, is sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodriques and is being pushed by the oil and gas industry. But it is also vigorously opposed by environmental groups and 41 cities and 26 counties -- including Miami Dade and Broward counties.

A similar measure, SB 318, is also moving quickly in the Senate. According to an analysis by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, the oil and gas industry contributed at least $443,000 to the political committees of top Republican lawmakers since the last election.

The top contributor, the Barron Collier Companies, which wants a permit to use hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and gas in Naples, steered $178,000 to lawmakers since December 2014, including $115,000 since July. Other members of the petroleum industry have contributed another of $265,000 this election cycle. 

Proponents of the bill said they won the support of the Florida Association of Counties and the League of Cities with a provision that postpones the prohibition on fracking bans until  a study on the impact of the state's geology is completed in 2017.

After that, the bill allows the controversial practice to go forward with minimal local regulation but requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to enact rules to regulate and monitor the practice. The rules would then have to be ratified by the Florida Legislature.

A similar bill, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has passed one committee in the Senate, where the bill died last year.

Photo:  Ray Kemble, a former fracking industry worker from Dimock, Penn., shows water from his and neighbors well after infiltrated by fracking chemicals. 

Continue reading "House rejects attempts to impose more testing and regulation on oil and gas fracking in Florida" »

November 16, 2015

Lawmakers want to ban Florida from implementing EPA clean air rule

@ByKristenMClark

Two Republican state lawmakers are joining Florida's Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi to fight what they view as an over-reaching plan by President Barack Obama's administration to combat the effects of climate change and reduce the nation's carbon footprint.

State Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, have introduced legislation that would prohibit state agencies from implementing a proposed rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dubbed the "Clean Power Plan."

The rule requires Florida to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 26 percent by 2030 -- a mandate that Diaz says could harm the state's economy and threaten Floridians' jobs.

Diaz said in a statement today that he views it as his job as a lawmaker "to ensure that over burdensome regulations do not hurt Florida’s most financially vulnerable citizens" and "to push back against a regulation that was adopted by unelected bureaucrats who do not understand what the cost to Floridians will actually be."

House Bill 639 and Senate Bill 838, both filed last week, state that "the Legislature must establish and direct the state's energy policy to best protect the standard of living of its citizens." The bills would prohibit state agencies from limiting -- or even planning to limit -- carbon dioxide emissions unless Congress enacts legislation directing it or a federal court upholds the EPA rule.

Last month, Bondi joined 23 other states in a lawsuit challenging the EPA over the "Clean Power Plan," calling it both an economic and states' rights issue. Her participation in the lawsuit made her the target of a recent attack ad launched by the political committee run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

November 06, 2015

Bloomberg airs TV ads blasting Pam Bondi for 'siding with polluters' against Clean Power Plan

 

Attorney General Pam Bondi is the subject of a new attack ad from the political committee run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg over her decision to join with 23 other states in a lawsuit attempting to stop new federal regulations on carbon emissions from power plants.

"Attorney General Pam Bondi is siding with polluters,'' the 30-second ad claims. "She's siding to block limits on power plants. Bondi's siding with big polluters. Her lawsuit would let them make millions in profits while they pollute our air and water. Pam Bondi, putting polluters and their profits ahead of protecting Florida families." 

Bondi responded by calling Bloomberg a bully.

"Florida has a great and conscientious track record of improving its air quality and protecting its environment,'' she said in a statement. "Now a billionaire bully is attacking Florida, and 26 other states, for having the audacity of defending their citizens against the EPA’s heavy-handed and unlawful regulations. This bully wants to defend the federal government; we want to protect the people we serve."

The ad is one of four being aired across the country targeting three Republican governors and one Democrat by Independence USA PAC, the political committee funded by Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman. The New York Times reported that the ads will cost more than $10 million and is the latest effort in his campaign to limit the number of coal-burning power plants in the country. 

Last week, Bondi joined 23 other states in suing the federal government to black the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule, called the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants. This plan is the first time national limits have been imposed on power plant emissions, which is estimated to account for almost 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.

The plan was announced by President Barack Obama in August, essentially bypassing Congress which tried and failed for years to create a national carbon dioxide emissions standard. 

In her announcement about the lawsuit, Bondi said the EPA rule lays out an "unrealistic" timeframe to cut carbon emissions by 2030 and would "require the use of costly and unproven technologies." (Here are the goals for Florida, according to the EPA.)

Bloomberg has been a primary benefactor to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, which is attempting to retire half the nation's coal fleet. He has long argued that the coal industry is naturally dying, as it's image and economics have declined.

"The lawsuits filed last week against the Clean Power Plan will not stop the decline of coal, given its unpopularity and increasingly unattractive economics," Bloomberg said in a statement on the ads. "But when Attorneys General put the coal industry's financial interests ahead of their constituents' right to breathe clean air, we want their constituents to know about it – and these ads will help make sure they do."

November 02, 2015

Saint Leo poll: Legislature mishandled redistricting, supports solar, and guns on campus

A majority of Florida voters say that the Florida Legislature "handled redistricting very poorly,'' according to a new statewide poll by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

While 64 percent surveyed expressed displeasure with the way state lawmakers have handled the once-a-decade redrawing of political boundaries., nearly 69 percent of the likely voters said they were unhappy with lawmakers. The legislature is on its third special session on redistricting since first enacting the plans in 2012 and, during that time,it has spent $11 million in taxpayer money defending its efforts.

The poll of 521 Floridians conducted Oct. 17-22, 2015, also asked people who should be responsible for redistricting in the future. The most popular answers were:

  • 28.7 percent -- an independent commission appointed by Democrats and Republicans.
  • 28.7 percent -- were unsure. 
  • 14.3 percent -- keep it with the Florida Legislature.
  • 13.9 percent -- an commission appointed by the governor.
  • 7.1 percent -- Florida judiciary and staff.

The survey also found that 50 percent of the public supports support allowing faculty, staff, and administrators to carry guns on the campuses of state colleges and universities; 78 percent support allowing people with solar panels be allowed to sell it back to the grid and 45 percent support fracking for natural gas in Florida, compared to 37 percent who disagree.

More here

Statement

Florida- Agree

 

Florida –Disagree

Florida Likely Voters – Agree

Florida Likely Voters –Disagree

The Florida Legislature has handled recent redistricting very poorly                               

64.0%

12.1%

68.7%

11.2%

Numerical base =

521

521

409

409

 

October 30, 2015

Rival solar initiatives causing confusion, and petition war

HDSolar Owner TCAlthough many Floridians may not know it, two competing solar petitions that could dictate the future of the state’s lucrative electricity market are engaged in a well-funded battle for signatures — and voter confusion has been the result.

Becky Van Horn of Hollywood says she “was duped” into signing a utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar petition by being told it would make it easier for people to switch to solar power in Florida.

“I didn’t realize there were two petitions going around,” said Van Horn, a senior at Florida International University who signed a petition on the Biscayne Bay campus after talking to a “very knowledgeable” pro-solar petition gatherer. “I think a lot of people do that. They don’t really read what they’re signing.”

Donna Redish of Tampa says she “was scammed” into signing the same petition because it was described as the “revised, updated version” of the Floridians for Solar Choice initiative she had already signed.

And when Greg Fussell was handed the rival initiative, the Smart Solar petition, he rejected it as the one promoted by utility companies, so he was given another — the one promoted by the solar industry, he reported in a letter to the editor of the Gainvesville Sun.

“Why the first one?” Fussell said he asked the young petition gatherer outside the University of Florida Health Science Center. “I get paid more,” he was told.

Organizers of the utility-backed Smart Solar initiative say they have no intention of misleading voters.

“It defies all logic to suggest that we think confusing our amendment with theirs will help us get signatures,” said Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the group. “If that is happening, we want to know about it because we won’t tolerate it.”

But it’s a scenario many predicted when a coalition of solar companies launched the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment last spring that, if successful, threatens to impose unprecedented competition upon Florida utility monopolies by allowing the establishment of independently run solar installations across the state. The utilities fought back and launched a rival amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, to leave things as they are and let state and local regulators decide. Story here. 

Photo: Enma Saiz shows the solar panels installed at her home in Pinecrest in this photo from 2011. TIM CHAPMAN Herald file photo