The Public Service Commission gave approval Thursday to a request by Florida Power & Light to charge customers for its exploration of natural gas using fracking technologies.
The panel concluded that the project, which allows the company to invest $191 million in a joint venture with PetroQuest Energy, Inc., would help to stabilize volatile energy costs and save customers more than $100 million over 30 years – about two cents a month -- and stabilize a fraction of the company's energy costs.
The measure was opposed by the lawyers who represent the public in rate cases, as well as the state’s largest industrial energy users, the Florida Retail Federation and several environmental groups. The PSC postponed a decision until March on the question of whether FPL will be allowed to charge customers up to $750 million a year in similar projects without PSC approval.
The opponents argued that there was no guarantee that the risk of shouldering the costs of oil and gas drilling in an uncertain regulatory environment would produce benefits for ratepayers and could backfire in higher costs. They argued the decision to allow the company to use customer dollars for speculation was something that should be left to the Legislature.
“FPL will shift all risks of investing in gas reserves to the customers in exchange for promises of potential customer fuel savings and guaranteed trued-up profits (or returns) for shareholders,’’ the public counsel said in its brief. It noted that it is not opposed to guaranteeing fuel savings to customers however, "FPL simply cannot guarantee those savings to customers over the next 50 years.”
The ruling could be the beginning of a trend as Duke Energy, the largest utility in the Tampa Bay market, said it is also considering asking for permission to charge its customers for fracking exploration.