October 11, 2016

FPL agrees to settle rate increase for $881 million, down from its $1.3 billion ask

FPL power linesAs Hurricane Matthew bore down on South Florida last week, Florida Power & Light’s executives agreed to back off the $1.3 billion rate increase it was seeking for the next four years and instead signed off on a $811 million settlement.

The deal, signed by FPL CEO Eric Silagy and the lawyer who represents the public in rate cases, J.R. Kelly, must be approved by the state’s Public Service Commission. If regulators agree, FPL would start charging customers $400 million in additional base rates beginning in January and at least $411 million in additional rate increases over the remaining three years of the settlement.

After the first year, rates would rise $211 million in 2018, and another $200 million in 2019, when a new power plant in Okeechobee comes on line. The monthly increase at the end of the four years for a customer that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would be would be about $9.48, starting with $5 more next year. It is less than the $13.23 increase the company initially projected.

Story here. 


October 06, 2016

FPL warns 2.5 customers expected to lose power in hurricane, company may have to 'rebuild' part of grid

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, sent customers a grim warning Thursday that "as many as 2.5 million customers will experience power outages and damage" as Category 4 winds from Hurricane Matthew pummel the east coast, forcing the company to "rebuild parts of its electric system" before power is restored.

"Depending upon Matthew's ultimate path and intensity, damage to our electrical infrastructure will be extensive," said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL in a press release. "The impacts of this storm will far exceed the design standards of not just the FPL system, but much of the design standards of homes and buildings throughout the region."

The company said that it is anticipating "a significant and challenging restoration effort along parts of Florida's east coast." Silagy said the company has lined up assistance from employees and workers from other utility companies and has" a workforce of more than 15,000 ready to respond."

But the company warned that "flooding, fallen structures, debris and other obstacles also can affect the speed of power restoration."

The company's message to customers to lower expectations comes in the wake of complaints in Tallahassee last month, when Category 1 winds from Hurricane Hermine downed trees and powerlines and interrupted to much of the capital city. It took the city's municipally-owned power company between two days to a week to have electricity restored to all homes and businesses.  

FPL said it will assign workers to "operate bucket trucks and restore service in between bands of severe weather, as long as winds are below 35 mph and conditions are safe."

The company is now better prepared to handle the storm than it was in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma cut power to parts of Broward County for as much as two weeks.

After the seven storms that pummeled Florida in 2004 and 2005, the Florida Legislature and the Public Service Commission ordered FPL and the state's other investor-owned utilities to develop storm hardening plans.

FPL said Thursday it has invested more than $2 billion since 2006 "to build a stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient energy grid that will allow us to restore power much faster than ever before."

"That said, there will be outages as no utility is hurricane-proof, especially when facing a powerful storm such as Matthew," the release said.

The company said that as a result of "lessons learned from 2012's Superstorm Sandy" it has installed real-time flood monitors at 223 substations substations in Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier and Lee counties to help them prevent transmission interruptions caused by flooding.

For more information, the company urges customers to go to fpl.com

August 10, 2016

Who pays for shuttered Duke nuclear plants? Customers do, PSC says: $51.7 million next year

Duke Energy power plantvia @JStockfischTBT

The average Duke Energy customer in Florida will pay roughly $1.57 a month next year in costs relating to the shuttered Crystal River nuclear power plant.

The state Public Service Commission agreed at its annual Nuclear Cost Recovery Clause hearing Tuesday that a request for $51.7 million by the utility was "reasonable and prudent." The money was spent on planned upgrades to the plant before damage was discovered in 2009 and the plant was shut down in 2013.

The nuclear cost recovery tab is just one element of the total rates charged to electric customers. Several other parts, including fuel — the largest component — will be filed with the commission in late August and early September.

The PSC meets in early November on those components, and after its decision, the total bill for 2017 will be known.

Duke customers are currently paying $1.76 on the average 1,000-kilowatt-hour bill for Crystal River costs. Last year, the PSC approved $56.5 million in costs. Next year, customers will be paying about 19 cents a month less. Story here.

Photo: Duke Energy nuclear power plant, Tampa Bay Times

July 28, 2016

Should FPL's retire its controversial nuke cooling canals? Report makes the case

Fpl plantFlorida Power & Light should retire its miles of cooling canals used to cool its Turkey Point nuclear power plant, and replace them with cooling towers that release less pollution into South Florida waterways and use less fresh water, a clean-energy group argued Thursday as part of its campaign to force the utility to reform its practices.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is suing FPL for violating the Clean Water Act, suggests that if the state’s largest electric company replaces its one-of-a-kind canal network, the switch would help Miami-Dade County meet its goal of recycling wastewater and reduce the threat to South Florida’s drinking water supply.

The estimated cost of the change: $59 million to $79 million per year over a 10-year period, an increase of 1.5 percent to 2 percent in the energy costs charged to customers, said Bill Powers, of San Diego-based Powers Engineering, which produced the report for SACE. The project would take about four years to complete, he said.

County environmental regulators have found that the saltier, heavier water flowing from FPL’s nuclear plant through more than 5,900 acres of canals has leaked downward, pushing a line of saltwater inland toward South Florida’s drinking water supply. Regulators also have discovered canal water, laced with non-threatening amounts of radioactive tritium, has leaked into Biscayne Bay.

Replacing the cooling canals with cooling towers is a “no-regret system,” said Stephen A. Smith, executive director for SACE, an organization that calls the cooling canals “an open industrial sewer, wedged between two national parks."

"FPL knows this technology is the best technology and they should have implemented it a long time ago,’’ he told reporters Thursday. “This is actually going to stop, to abate, the pollution source.”

The proposal to retire the cooling canals adds ammunition to a resolution passed unanimously by the Miami-Dade County Commission last week asking FPL to stop using the troubled canal system by 2033.

FPL has not agreed to the county’s request. In June it signed a consent order with the state agreeing to clean up the polluted canals within 10 years but keep them operating.

After that, if the company seeks to renew its license for the current nuclear reactors beyond 2033, FPL will consider “any potential alternative cooling technologies, which would logically include cooling towers,” said Peter Robbins, manager of nuclear communications for FPL.

Robbins blasted SACE as an “anti-utility, anti-nuclear political group” that should “not be trusted.”

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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:

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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. 

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