December 01, 2016

Report: Utilities and fossil fuel industry are orchestrating a campaign to oppose solar expansion


Blocking the Sun reportWith Florida now a battleground over the future of solar energy, "utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns,'' according to a new report funded by environmental activists and think tanks that are opposing the effort. 

The report, “Blocking the Sun,” released by the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center, singles out Florida's four largest utilities -- Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric -- as being among 17 entities nationwide that are working aggressively "to block solar policies."

The report was written by the Frontier Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center, two environmental think tanks backed by pro-solar and anti-climate change activists. The report says it was funded by several individuals that are who are listed in the report's opening pages. 

Coming after the pro-solar groups' defeat of the utility-backed Amendment 1, the missive is a sign that the battle over solar power in Florida is still young. 

It also come out the same day that SolarCity, a subsidiary of Tesla Motors, Inc., announced that it has launched residential solar service in Orlando and is hiring sales staff and installers at its Clermont offices. The company said it plans to expand to additional areas of the state in the coming months.

The debate has already begun over how the issue will be framed. The utilities, with the help of a report by the conservative James Madison Institute and advocacy by the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Tallahassee leaders, have tried to make the case that as more individuals and businesses install solar panels, the cost of providing access to the grid will be divided among fewer paying customers with those left on the grid "subsidizing" others.

Their greatest worry: a “utility death spiral” triggered by customers who abandon the grid as the price of solar panels and energy storage technology declines. 

In some states, "utilities have responded to the challenge posed by solar energy by working constructively with regulators and other decision-makers to develop new business models that maintain consumers’ access to an affordable, reliable electric grid,'' the report says. In others -- like Florida -- they have fought to limit customer-generated solar by attempting to pass the failed Amendment 1 and now want regulators to rollback net metering policies that encourage solar investment. 

The report attempts to provide a road map for the source of much of that information by detailing the role of several organizations have had in the elaborate campaign to limit customer-owned solar expansion throughout the nation:

  • The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and run an anti-solar public relations campaigns.
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has drafted anti-net metering resolutions and legislation.
  • The Koch brothers, who have funneled tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits, including the 60-Plus organization which spent more than $1 million to promote the utility-backed Amendment 1 in Florida.
  • Americans for Prosperity (AFP) which has run "misinformation campaigns against net metering and other solar policies."
  • The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a Houston-based front group for the fossil fuel industry.

Environment Florida proposes several recommendations for legislators and state regulators to push back. It urges them to resist caps on net metering, added surcharges and tariffs on solar customers and to reject attempts to roll back renewable electricity standards.

Instead of focusing on the "subsidy" narrative pushed by the utility companies, it also wants regulators to calculate the value of distributed solar energy to the grid, encourage community solar projects and they want to polices that allow for "strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power." 

 

November 02, 2016

Lawsuit alleges utilities intentionally attempted to deceive court, withholding facts on solar amendment

Using new information that came from a leaked audio recording, solar industry advocates on Wednesday filed two legal actions aimed at asking the Florida Supreme Court to disqualify the outcome of Amendment 1 voting because of revelations they claim are proof that Florida’s electric utility industry intentionally attempted to deceive voters.

"Consumers for Smart Solar, Inc., the amendment’s proponents, affirmatively withheld relevant and material information as to the objective and intended purpose of the amendment, and thereby misled this Court (and is now misleading the public) as to the adequacy of the ballot title and summary presented to the voters,''  the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and Floridians for Solar Choice, the pro-solar political committee opposing the amendment, wrote in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. Read our full story here.

The groups ask the court to reopen the case involving the the ballot language used in the proposed Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot and declare it unconstitutionally misleading.

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the political committee backed by the utilities, Consumers for Smart Solar, dismissed the lawsuit as “political grandstanding at its best to deter Florida voters from voting in favor of Amendment 1.” She repeated the industry claim that the amendment “simply safeguards consumer rights, consumer protection and consumer fairness as we grow solar in Florida.”

The lawsuit cites a report in the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times that quotes Sal Nuzzo, the policy director and vice president at Tallahassee think tank supported by the utility industry, calling Amendment 1 "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that attempt to deceive voters into supporting restrictions on the expansion of solar by shrouding it as a pro-solar amendment.

With more than four million voters having already cast their ballots, the groups filed a second lawsuit asking the court to order Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to embargo the counting of votes cast for Amendment 1 until the court rules on the allegations.

“This is an insurance policy. It’s not a sign we’re going to lose,” said Stephen A. Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an organizing force behind the solar industry’s campaign to oppose Amendment 1. “We’ve had so many people come to us and say they were deceived — people who have already voted, people who are confused by it — and they have asked us to take legal action.”

Florida law requires that the Supreme Court review all ballot initiatives to determine if the language is fair and not misleading. The court initially ruled on a 4-3 vote in March that the language was not misleading based on the arguments provided by the lawyers for the utilities.

In an a strongly worded dissent, Justice Barbara Pariente disagreed, calling the ballot language “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” because it is “masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative.”

Recent polls show that Amendment 1 may be falling short of the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law.  Download Solar lawsuits  Download Solar Mandamus lawsuit

 

November 01, 2016

Bob Graham blasts Amendment 1 as 'deceptive', unneeded and will 'accelerate the decline' of solar

Bob GrahamFormer Florida U.S. Senator and Gov. Bob Graham blasted the utility-backed Amendment 1 Tuesday as “deceptive” and unneeded and a harmful step “backwards” for the state’s energy future.

“I’m discouraged as a citizen how far we have slipped and see Amendment 1 as a means of accelerating that decline in solar in Florida,’’ he said in a conference call with reporters.

Graham, a Democrat, suggested that by rejecting the amendment, voters could send a message to the Legislature that they want the utilities to join with solar advocates “to have a constructive discussion” and instead use the vote “as a springboard for a positive, better energy future for Florida.”

He said Florida should follows Georgia’s lead and pass laws that make it easier for property owners to allow third parties to install solar panels on their roofs, not discourage them, and require utility companies to increase the amount of electricity they generate using solar power.  

But, he warned, if the amendment passes, “it will discourage the expansion of solar by psychologically strengthening the position before an already compliant Legislature and Public Service Commission to erect barriers to solar.’’

"There is no need for a constitutional amendment with this language as it relates to solar energy in Florida,'' he said. "The Public Service Commission and the Legislature have all the authority to do what this amendment purports to do -- whether it's on safety, access, taxation or regulation."

The utilities argue that because homeowners with solar panels still rely on the grid for electricity at night and on cloudy days but they don’t compensate the utilities enough to maintain their power plants, transmission lines and maintenance crews. The emerging argument is that net metering laws that allow homeowners to be reimbursed for the excess energy their solar panels generate, and tax rebates to solar customers, are unfair subsidies intended to benefit solar users at the expense of non-solar users.

“We are opposed to subsidies that are unfair and regressive,’’ said Rob Gould, spokesperson for Florida Power & Light in an email to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. “There’s a difference between governmental tax break/credit subsidies [such as the property tax credits for solar installations] and subsidies that benefit certain customers on the backs of other customers (rebates, net metering, etc.).”

Gould wouldn’t say explicitly what the legislative agenda would look like to oppose these “subsidies” but many in the industry have made it clear they want to roll back the current net metering law that, as utilities have in other states.

Suzanne Grant, spokesperson for Duke Energy, said in an email that the utility believes “the current net metering policy needs updating, and we believe customers who use the power grid continuously, like solar customers, should pay for grid access, grid services, and the back- up power they use.”

But Graham called the subsidies concept is “a false argument.” He cited studies commissioned by state regulators in states such as Nevada and Mississippi and complied by the Brookings Institution that conclude that costs associated with more rooftop solar are generally outweighed by benefits.

“The installation of solar saves customers money because it avoids having to build additional generating capacity the cost of which in Florida not only gets passed along to ratepayers once those plant are in operation but, as we learned with Duke Energy on the Gulf Coast, they got paid in advance for build nuclear plants that were never constructed,’’ Graham told reporters, referring to the nuclear cost recovery fees approved by the Legislature and regulators.

Solar advocates argue that it also provides a net benefit to other utility customers because it alleviates the need to fire up expensive “peaker” power plants when utility use is at its peak, reduces demand for energy delivered by power plants that emit carbons, and offsets the need to construct new power plants.

He also warned that if the amendment passes, it could offset the benefits of the the solar amendment approved by voters on the August ballot, Amendment 4, which prohibits tax increases on commercial property that increases in value because of the addition of solar panels. Voters approved that amendment by 73 percent of the vote.

Amendment 1 would "encourage increased taxes on the installation and maintenance of those solar facilities which could counter-balance the economic incentives that Amendment 4 was intended to provide,'' Graham said.

He echoed the argument of other solar advocates that Amendment 1 is deceptive because it leaves the impression that solar could expand in Florida.

"If you see what's being said and placed before us on our television set, you get the impression that this a is pro solar; this will make our electric system safer -- without any definition of what that means,'' he said. "This is deceptive in that all the things the advocates could say could happen with this amendment can happen without this amendment. You don't have to have a constitutional amendment to have adequate regulatory power over solar. You don’t have to have a constitutional amendment to have safety.”

Photo credit: Associated Press

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.”

Continue reading "Should FPL's retire its controversial nuke cooling canals? Report makes the case" »

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" »