May 17, 2016

FPL delays nuclear expansion as it deals with canal clean-up, but wants to charge customers for expansion anyway

FPL salt at turkey point

Florida Power & Light has told state officials that it will put a four-year pause on its construction plans for two proposed nuclear power plants at its troubled Turkey Point site but it wants the state to waive the requirement that it show the project is still "feasible" in order to charge customers in advance for it. 

"The analysis would impose a substantial hardship upon FPL and violate principles of fairness," FPL wrote in an motion filed April 27 with the Florida Public Service Commission.

This week, the City of Miami, consumer groups, environmental advocates and some of the state's largest electric power users, urged utility regulators to reject that request, saying FPL should be required to justify whether it is allowed to continue charging customers for a project that may be on the skids.

"If a project is no longer feasible or practical, then the costs incurred are not prudent,'' wrote City of Miami attorney Victoria Mendez in a motion filed with the PSC on Tuesday. "...Since FPL plans to continue recovering costs pursuant to section 366.93 while doing no additional work towards the completion of the project, it is imperative that FPL demonstrate the project is still economically feasible and practical.'' 

Since 2008, FPL has charged customers $281 million for the planning and licensing costs of two new nuclear power units -- Units 6 and 7 -- at its Turkey Point site on Biscayne Bay. It now wants to be able to charge customers another $22 million in the coming year.

The co-called "nuclear cost recovery" fee has been controversial since lawmakers created it in 2006. In 2013, after Duke Energy customers spent more than $1.5 billion financing a failed nuclear project, the Florida Legislature revised the law to require utility companies to prove that a nuclear project is feasible before the Public Service Commission gives the company permission to move into the "preconstruction" phase of the project.

"This annual feasibility analysis serves to safeguard customers from potentially paying millions of dollars over numerous years on a project when the long-term feasibility analysis may show that it is no longer viable going forward, and, accordingly, may be abandoned,'' wrote the Florida Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in rate cases in its motion filed Monday.

The future of FPL's planned nuclear expansion project has become inevitably tied to the clean-up of a massive underground salt water plume that is migrating towards South Florida's water supply. The plume is expected to have been caused by the utility company's 2013 nuclear plant expansion, intended to increase power output by 15 percent, which forced the canals to become dangerously warm. Story here. 

Continue reading "FPL delays nuclear expansion as it deals with canal clean-up, but wants to charge customers for expansion anyway" »

May 05, 2016

Donald Trump's backers, unlike candidate, believe in climate change

via @jenstaletovich

Backers of a President Donald Trump, who once called climate change a “con job,” may beg to differ with their leader.

According to a new survey by Yale University, 56 percent of Trump’s supporters believe climate change is happening, although they also believe nature is behind the planet’s rising seas and melting ice caps, not greenhouse gases generated by humans.

The survey, completed in March before contenders Ted Cruz and John Kasich suspended their campaigns, was conducted to assess voters’ stance on climate change and gauge how the country should respond. Democrats typically supported action. No surprise. But Republican voters had some less predictable responses. Take their view of renewable energy. A majority of Trump backers — 70 percent — favor putting more money into research.

Trump, who fought a three-year battle to stop a wind farm within sight of his Scottish golf resort and last year told a 12-year-old girl in New Hampshire that windmills “kill a lot of birds,” not so much. While Trump said in January he was joking about blaming the Chinese for fabricating the concept of climate change, he still argued it is a “a very expensive form of tax.”

For more, read here.

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. 

 

April 26, 2016

After waiting years, state cites FPL for threatening drinking water, wants clean-up plan in 60 days

FPL salt at turkey point

via @JenStaletovich

 

Days after issuing a controversial plan for managing the troubled cooling canal system at Turkey Point, state environmental officials have cited Florida Power & Light for threatening nearby drinking water supplies and ordered the utility to hammer out a fix to stop the spread of an underground plume of saltwater.

In a notice to FPL officials Monday, the Department of Environmental Protection gave the utility 21 days to provide any information about how the 40-year-old canals have seeped into the Biscayne aquifer over the years and enter negotiations to come up with a clean-up plan. If the two sides fail to agree, the agency may come up with its own measures in 60 days, the notice said.

DEP Water Resource Management Director Frederick Aschauer also warned FPL that a new problem — in March Miami-Dade County detected canal water in Biscayne Bay — may be violating other state laws, for which the utility may be liable for damages. Aschauer gave FPL 15 days to set up a meeting.

The two notices come years late for critics, who say there has long been compelling evidence that the massive one-of-a-kind cooling canal system was degrading water quality far beyond the borders of the nuclear power plant along southern Biscayne Bay.

After DEP signed off on a December 2014 uprating project that expanded power output from the plant’s twin reactors, rock miner Steve Torcise, Tropical Audubon and neighboring cities including Miami sued, saying state regulators did too little to address a growing underground plume that has pushed saltwater inland about four miles. An administrative judge in February agreed, faulting DEP for not citing the agency for violations and ordering state officials to redo the plan.

Last week, the Miami Herald reported that FPL knew about super salty canal water pushing inland since at least 2010 when it conducted its own in-house study. The study found adding fresh water alone, a fix FPL sought repeatedly as canals grew hotter after the expansion, would likely worsen the plume.

More here. 

 

House passes oil spill law pushed by Carlos Curbelo, Patrick Murphy

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill sponsored by two South Florida members of Congress that would make sure any foreign companies responsible for oil spills are on the hook for clean-up costs.

The Foreign Spill Protection Act, by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Jupiter Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, would close a loophole in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that leaves the U.S. footing the bill when spills caused by foreign rigs or rigs in foreign waters exceed $1 billion in clean up. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill cost $54 billion.

"I thank the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation for Florida and coastal communities all across the country," Curbelo said in a statement. "This is a victory not only for our environment but also for American taxpayers and may lead our foreign neighbors to improve their safety and oversight standards."

"As a native Floridian, protecting our environment remains one of my top priorities," Murphy said in a statement. "When our economy so greatly relies on the health of our waters, we must do everything we can to protect our coastline from devastating oil spills."

Both congressmen spoke on the House floor about the bill, and in their written statements, they thanked each other for working together, and the House in general for its unanimous approval. Murphy is running for U.S. Senate in the nation's largest swing district, while Curbelo is seeking re-election to his own swing district that includes the Florida Keys.

The legislation has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

 

 

April 21, 2016

Florida governor says he's unfamiliar with FPL power lines ruling

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Gov. Rick Scott got a question in Hollywood on Thursday about Wednesday's momentous ruling against Florida Power & Light over its Miami power lines project.

"I haven't seen it," the governor said.

An appeals court found Scott and the Florida Cabinet failed to consider the city of Miami's development regulations in backing FPL's plan.

March 11, 2016

Legislature makes Everglades and springs bills last one to pass the session

Florida legislators sent a message to voters Friday that they are committed to funding the state's ailing Everglades ecosystem and polluted springs and passed legislation that will carve out at least $250 million a year for those purposes for the next 20 years.

The bill, known as the Legacy Florida Act, builds on Amendment 1 which voters approved by a 75 percent margin in 2014, by earmarking a portion of that money to be spent on the state's most fragile ecosystems. It was the last bill to pass this session.

"This is an historic commitment by the Florida Legislature,'' said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, sponsor of the bill. "Tell my constituents, help is on the way."

Under the amendment, lawmakers are obligated to devote  one-third of the revenue from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions to the Land Acquisition Trust fund to pay for land and water conservation programs.

Last year the fund collected $743.5 million and this year lawmakers benefited from an improving real estate market and more robust tax collections to have $902 million to dedicate for environmental programs.

The Legacy Florida Act, (HB 989/SB 1168) proposed by incoming Senate president Negron and Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, requires the state to set aside at 25 percent of all Amendment 1 funds up to $200 million a year to fund Everglades restoration projects over the next 20 years, whichever is less, and $50 million to pay for springs restoration.

Legislators are also poised to approve their $82 billion budget and will steer the bulk of the new revenue in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund into already-identified projects intended to restore the Everglades. Last year, legislators dedicated $79 million for the Everglades, but this year they will spend $205 million. Another $50 million will go into springs restoration and $35 million in rural and family lands.

The state is facing two lawsuits from environmental groups accusing lawmakers of steering millions of the nearly $750 million from the trust fund into state programs that they argued should have been paid for by general revenue funds.

This year, environmentalists are still unhappy about the Legislature's decision to dedicate $188 million in the environmental money to salaries and expenses, freeing up general revenue funds to finance other projects in the budget.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, defended it, saying it is "almost unheard of that your administrative expenses be less than 10 percent" and this budget spends 3 percent of Amendment 1 funds on salaries and expenses.

March 09, 2016

Legislators put solar energy incentives on August primary ballot

Solar panelsFlorida legislators voted Wednesday to put a clean energy amendment on the August primary ballot, allowing voters to decide whether or not to give businesses two different tax breaks when they install solar panels on their properties.

The proposed amendment, HJR 193, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate after sponsors moved the ballot question to the August 30 primary instead of the general election.

The House and Senate also passed a companion measure, HB 195, which will give the Legislature until 2017 to establish the rules to implement the tax credits if voters approve it. Under the amendment, lawmakers would be required to enact tax credits that exempt the assessed value of renewable energy devices from property taxes as well as exempt the products from the tangible personal property taxes by 2018. Once the tax incentives are in place, they will last for 20 years.

The proposed amendment is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, and has the support of the Florida Retail Federation, the Christian Coalition, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups whose members want the opportunity to install solar arrays on their properties. They have said that the existing tax laws serve as a disincentive for companies like Solar City to enter the Florida market by adding as much as five cents per kilowatt hour for solar energy.

"The proposal opens the door for significant expansion of solar and renewable energy production in Florida,'' Brandes said in a statement Wednesday.

Continue reading "Legislators put solar energy incentives on August primary ballot" »

Radioactive isotopes found in bay from FPL's nuclear plants are violating laws

FPL salt at turkey pointvia @JenStaletovich

Florida Power & Light’s troubled cooling canals, blamed for contaminating groundwater and now found to be leaking into Biscayne Bay, are likely violating local water laws and federal operating permits, critics said on Tuesday.

Following the release of a report that found a radioactive “tracer” at levels up to 215 times more than normal in Biscayne Bay, Miami-Dade County commissioners called for quicker action and closer scrutiny of the nuclear power plant’s canals. The county’s chief environmental regulator said he planned to issue another violation — the county cited the utility in October for polluting groundwater — to force FPL to take more steps to fix the chronic problems.

Critics, including state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, environmentalists and neighboring rock miners, also demanded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intervene.

Rodriguez and others said the state has repeatedly failed to address worsening conditions. In February, a Tallahassee judge ordered the state to redo an administrative order managing the canals, saying it lacked the most “fundamental element of an enforcement action: charges.”

On Monday, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez released the latest damning document: A county monitoring study that found water sampled in December and January contained high amounts of tritium, a radioactive isotope found in water used to cool nuclear reactors. While the tritium falls far below levels that experts consider dangerous, the telltale tracer provided the critical link that high levels of ammonia and phosphorus in sections of bay bottom — pollution that is more damaging to marine life — likely came from the canals.

Environmentalists now suspect that new outbreaks of algae blooms detected in the bay over the last decade may be tied to canal water. They say the utility’s federal operating permit also prohibits it from dumping water into the bay. Story here. 

March 08, 2016

Florida mayors to debate moderators: Ask presidential candidates about climate change

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami is the poster-child city for climate change. And with two presidential debates here this week, some local politicians want to make sure the candidates for the White House get pressed about the issue.

Twenty-one mayors signed letters to debate moderators imploring them to ask about climate change, and offering a few suggestions. 

"It would be unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida to not be addressed in the upcoming debate you will be hosting in the state," write the mayors. Most hail from South Florida, though a handful are from elsewhere in the state.

The letter to moderators of Thursday's Republican debate singles out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: "In particular, Senator Rubio represents this state and should not be allowed to fail to provide, or side step, substantive answers to these questions," the letter says. The Democratic debate will be held Wednesday.

The leading signature on the letter is from Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, a Democrat and former state lawmaker. Most, but not all, of the mayors on the list are Democrats too.

Fifteen of the mayors had sent letters in January to Rubio and then-Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush urging them to meet with local leaders to discuss climate change, after neither candidate made the topic a campaign priority.

The new mayors on the list are Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Alice Burch of Miami Shores, David Coviello of Biscayne Park, Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg and Philip Levine of Miami Beach.

Read the letters.