December 02, 2014

FPL wants to get into the gas drilling business -- and add costs to base rate

Florida Power & Light wants to get into the natural gas fracking business and it wants its customers to pay for it.

At a hearing on Monday, the state’s largest utility asked regulators for permission to charge customers up to $750 million a year to form a partnership with an Oklahoma oil and gas company because, it argues, the investment would help FPL stabilize fuel prices and save customers money.

How much? Estimates indicate the savings would be between $51 million and $107 million over the life of the project — or a total of 50 cents to $1 for the average customer over several years. In addition to the savings, FPL argues that customers also will benefit from less volatility in fuel prices.Similar projects would be sought to reach the annual $750 million investment cap.

In tapping a well that already produces gas, FPL argues, customers are unlikely to see price increases because exploration costs will be offset by savings from the investment — the first time any utility has asked to have its customers pay for gas exploration.

Opponents, representing the state’s largest commercial electricity users and the general public, had a simple response to the question before the Public Service Commission: “No thank you.”

They argued at a day-long hearing that the risks of operating the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, outweigh the rewards. They said FPL can’t be sure that the natural gas wells will produce enough gas to meet its needs and customers will shoulder the costs of dry wells, environmental impacts and market changes for the next 50 years.

“Fifty years is a long time to receive guaranteed profits on something that’s not guaranteed,’’ said Eric Sayler, an attorney for the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in cases before the Public Service Commission.

He said the idea is an attempt by FPL to earn a guaranteed profit on the investment and have the risk borne by customers, not shareholders.

“No other utility has attempted to put this in its base rate,” he said. Story here. 

 

September 18, 2014

Gov. Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis and Julie Brown to utility board

Jimmy_Patronis (1)

Four years after the state Senate rejected two of former Gov. Charlie Crist's appointees to the Public Service Commission because they had no industry experience, Gov. Rick Scott has appointed state Rep. Jimmy Patronis to the same board, even though he has had no industry experience.

The difference: Patronis is a Panama City Republican who announced last year  he will step aside as a candidate in 2016 for the state Senate seat held by Senate President Don Gaetz, making room for Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, to be the heir apparent. Patronis was also an early support of Scott's against former Attorney General Bill McCollum. 

Scott also reappointed, as expected, Tampa lawyer Julie Brown based on a list of six candidates, sent to him by the legislatively-controlled PSC Nominating Council.

Patronis, who is term-limited out of office this year, fills a seat now held by Eduardo Balbis on the board that has the power to approval utility rates in Florida. Balbis surprised observers in May when he announced he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by Crist.

Balbis got the job after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust Crist appointees David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens who rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida.

On Thursday, Scott also announced the reappointment of Tampa lawyer Julie Brown, 39, from a list of six candidates sent to him by the legislatively-controlled PSC Nominating Council. She has been on the commission since 2011.

Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $131,036 and the appointments are subject to Senate approval.

Patronis is the vice president of Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City Beach and listed no utility experience on his application for the job. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and was an early and avid supporter of Scott's first campaign for governor in 2010.

Scott held a rally last Friday at Patronis’ Panhandle restaurant with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Patronis is also a member of the panel evaluating the finalists for the FSU presidency.

Brown, 39, of Tampa, has been a PSC member since 2011 and is a University of Florida graduate. The two four-year terms begin Jan. 2, 2015, and end Jan. 1, 2019.

Among the candidates Scott rejected was former state Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, and Patrick Sheehan, director of the Office of Energy in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Scott's appointment of Patronis shows how far he has shifted from the outsider in 2010 who said in his Republican primary victory speech that "the deal-makers are crying in their cocktails." The Patronis pick is an obvious reward for an early and loyal Scott supporter. Patronis' wife Katie has donated $500 to Scott's re-election.

“Representative Patronis has faithfully served Florida families during his years of service in the Florida House of Representatives,’’ Scott said in a statement. “I am confident that Jimmy will make an excellent addition to the Public Service Commission as he continues to put Florida families first.”
 
Here's the press release today from the governor's office:
 

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September 17, 2014

Miami-Dade wants more scrutiny of FPL cooling canals, fearing bigger problems

@JennyStaletovich

Worried that rising temperatures and a festering algae bloom in Turkey Point’s cooling canals may hint at bigger problems for Florida Power & Light, Miami-Dade County officials said Tuesday they plan to assert the county's regulatory power to find out what’s ailing the aging canals.

“Clearly the cooling canal water is migrating outside the boundaries of their system,” Lee Hefty, director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management, told county commissioners before suggesting the county take action.

Since June, FPL has been struggling to control the hot canals and an algae bloom that has spread throughout the 168-mile loop. The canals were dug in the 1970s and act like a radiator to help keep the nuclear power plant from overheating.

The utility has twice asked the South Florida Water Management District for more water to freshen the canals. Earlier this summer, the agency signed off on up to 14 million gallons a day from the Floridan aquifer and last week agreed to a temporary permit for up to 100 million gallons of freshwater a day from a nearby canal.

The utility needed the county’s permission to lay pipes across endangered wetlands, a request that could have been granted by staff. But environmental groups asked for a public hearing, warning that a spreading underground saltwater plume potentially worsened by the hot canals posed a bigger risk to Biscayne National Park and area water quality.

“We have the distinction of being the only national park adjacent to a nuclear power plant,” park superintendent Brian Carlstrom told county commissioners. “We really need to understand why this unprecedented event is happening.”

The utility has blamed below-normal rainfall on the rising temperatures and increased salinity. In July and August, temperatures exceeded 102 degrees and twice threatened to shut down the plant. Because of the spike, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raised temperature limits to 104 degrees to keep the plant operating. More here. 

 

 

August 28, 2014

Panel rewards legislative ties, nominating Patronis and Murzin for PSC

The Public Service Nominating Council on Thursday included a current and former legislator, as well as a sitting commissioner, in the slate of seven candidates forwarded to Gov. Rick Scott to fill two positions on the five-person board that regulates Florida utilities. 

Gov. Rick Scott will now choose from the following list to fill two seats on the panel that will shape the direction of electricity and water rates in Florida, as well as the future of energy policy for the next four years: 

Julie Immanuel Brown  Download (Redacted) Applicant 11 - Julie Imanuel Brown
David J. Murzin  Download (Redacted) Applicant 20 - David J. Murzin
Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez  Download (Redacted) Applicant 25 - Gerardo B. (Jerry) Fernandez
Stuart Wayne Pollins  Download (Redacted) Applicant 29 - Stuart Wayne Pollins
Kevin LeRoy Wiehle  Download (Redacted) Applicant 30 - Kevin LeRoy Wiehle

Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.  Download (Redaction Not Needed) Applicant 33 - Jimmy T. Patronis, Jr.

Regulatory experience or utility industry background was not abiding criteria for the council, which is dominated by legislators whose voting record frequently aligns with the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami,  looked past the lack of experience of state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner and Republican, and former state Rep. Dave Murzin, a Pensacola Republican and current aide to state Sen. Greg Evers, and included them on the list. Murzin once sat on the nominating council board.

Also on the list sent to the governor is Julie Immanuel Brown, a Tampa attorney and current PSC commissioner. The panel rejected others with years of experience in utility issues, such as Marshall Willis, a former 38-year veteran of the PSC who was fired without explanation as director of accounting and finance by PSC executive director Braulio Baez last spring.

 

Climate activists protest, but board nominating regulators ignores issue

@jenstaletovich
 
Scientists hoping to draw attention to Gov. Rick Scott's disregard for climate change and rising seas staged a press conference next door to a meeting of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council at the Miami International Airport Hotel Thursday.
 
But before they could even start, state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-West Palm Beach, who chairs the council, announced, "I support climate change," as he walked by University of Miami climate scientist Harold Wanless and South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard.
 
Abruzzo later walked into the press conference to urge Wanless and Stoddard to apply for a position on the advisory board that oversees Florida utilities, including Florida Power & Light, and noted that none of candidates for the regulatory board addressed climate change in their presentations.
 
"I'm a firm believer in global warming," Abruzzo said. "Renewables are important to me, especially solar power, because we're the Sunshine State."
 
Wanless and Stoddard have frequently criticized Scott for ignoring the dangers of climate change. They used the meeting of the nominating council to underscore what they say is a "cozy relationship" between the regulators and the utilities that have fought against increasing Florida's energy conservation mandates and wean Florida's energy market off fossil fuels. 

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August 27, 2014

Climate activists to protest PSC at meeting to interview prospects for the utility board

The normally staid meeting of the Public Service Nominating Council could get a bit lively on Thursday as a group of climate change activists, including a scientist who met with Gov. Rick Scott, stage a protest at the Miami International Airport to complain about the utility board's "cozy relationship with Florida's utility companies."

There are two vacancies on the five-member PSC and the legislatively-dominated nominating council has a history of picking candidates that are endorsed and backed by the state's largest utilities -- which are among the largest contributors to legislative campaigns and non-profit causes promoted by legislators.

The nominating council will interview 16 candidates on Thursday and offer up as many three nominees for each of the two seats on the commission. Gov. Rick Scott will choose from the list of nominees and in the past has re-appointed candidates backed by the state's power companies. 

Seeking a second term is Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown, who will be among those interviewed on Thursday. A second position was opened when Commissioner Eduardo Balbis decided not to seek a second term. He was an occasional critic of the industry on a board that has a record of embracing much of the agenda of the state's largest electric utilities in the past four years. 

Also to be interviewed is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, who runs the popular Captain Anderson's restaurant which is owned by his family. Patronis lists no utility-related experience in his resume but is a favorite for the job because of his political connections. Patronis dropped out of the 2016 state Senate race to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, leaving Gaetz's son, Matt Gaetz, the frontrunner in the race and many expect him to be named by Scott to the utility board in return for dropping out.

Here's the press release from Florida For All: 

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August 05, 2014

Business owners ask Scott for more time to comment on climate rules

A coalition of 17 owners of Florida-based companies that specialize in solar energy on Tuesday urged Gov. Rick Scott and the Public Service Commission to extend the public comment period on how the state will comply with the federal rules on limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

The PSC announced on July 10 that the public would have until Aug. 8 to comment on the new carbon rules but limited the distribution of the notice so few were aware of it.

In a letter to Scott and the panel that regulates utilities, the businesses said that is not enough time for them to make the case that the state should be allowing for more alternative energy to reach its carbon reduction goals.

"As Florida businesses, it matters how the state constructs its implementation plan including what type of process the state uses to make these important decisions,'' the group wrote in a letter to Scott and the PSC on Tuesday "We want the opportunity and time necessary to fully address our
concerns.''  Download Final PSC ltr

Florida has until June 30, 2016, to submit to EPA for approval its plan to implement the Clean Power Plan, the federal requirement aimed at reducing carbon pollution from power plants, which have been shown to be a contributor to climate change. In June, the Obama Administration released a plan for the EPA to limit the carbon pollution from power plants. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 21 percent of the electricity in Florida comes from coal-fired power plants, which are responsible for some of the most concentrated carbon dioxide emissions. The EIA also found that Florida’s power plants emit more pollution than those of any other U.S. state except Texas and Pennsylvania and Florida households consume 40 percent more electricity than the U.S. average and spend $1,900 more.

Because renewable energy accounts for only 2.2 percent of all energy generation in the state, the solar producers believe the state has great potential to reduce carbon emissions and create jobs by relying more on solar energy.

Scott, who denied the existance of human-induced climate change when he first ran in 2010, has refused to comment on the issue this election cycle. 

According to a recent poll by SurveyUSA and financed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 71 percent of Floridians believe that climate change is caused by carbon pollution and 77 percent back the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

June 03, 2014

Florida's dependence on natural gas will ease impact of new EPA rules

Florida’s heavy reliance on natural gas could make cutting carbon pollution under an ambitious plan unveiled Monday by the Obama administration easier to swallow.

The complex rule, touted as the strongest federal effort yet to combat climate change by regulating power plant carbon emissions for the first time, calls for reducing emissions nationally by 30 percent by 2030. The rule covers all fossil fuel-powered plants, which generate about 6 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gases, but chiefly targets the nation’s biggest polluters: coal-fired power plants.

Florida, which gets about 68 percent of its power from plants running on natural gas, would have to reduce emissions by 38 percent, according to calculations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While the proposed rule has been generally praised by environmentalists, some Florida and national industry groups argue it will drive up fuel and consumer costs. More here by Jenny Staletovich.

 

April 01, 2014

Public Service Commission ousts another veteran staffer for 'personnel' reasons

UPDATE with Baez comment: Months after Commissioner Art Graham was named chairman of the Public Service Commission for the second time, the director of the Public Service Commission has asked for and received the resignation of one of the agency's highest ranking and longest-serving staff members, Marshall Willis.

"As you requested during our meeting this afternoon, I am hereby submitting my resignation effective April 30, 2014,'' Willis wrote in a letter last Friday to the PSC executive director, Braulio Baez, who reports to Graham and the five-member board.

"I do not fully understand the why's but I do understand that I serve at your pleasure and you have the right to do what you are doing. I have really enjoyed working at the psc, it has been like a family to me. lt is disheartening, to say the least to be asked to do this, by the very organization that I have given my all to over all these years."

Willis was director of the Division of Accounting and Finance, was known as among the hardest working on the staff, and served the commission for more than 25 years. He was reportedly two years way from his retirement under the accelerated retirement program known as DROP. 

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March 30, 2014

Report: Political investment by energy companies helps them buy into legis agenda

Update: Here's the report

To understand the influence of Florida’s largest electric companies in Tallahassee, look no further than your monthly bill.

You won’t see a line item for the “nuclear cost recovery fee” that Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy collect each month for future construction of new nuclear power plants. That’s because legislators last year voted down an amendment that would have required them to disclose the fee to customers, something they knew the two companies didn’t want to do.

Lawmakers allowed utilities to collect the fee in 2006, and when the companies tamped down their plans to build new facilities and used the money for other needs, such as upgrading existing nuclear plants, legislators kept the fee in place despite complaints from consumer advocates.

The legislative journey of the nuclear cost recovery fee is but one example of how Florida’s power companies control the legislative agenda in Tallahassee, according to a new report by Integrity Florida, a non-profit Tallahassee-based research and watchdog group. They say millions of dollars in campaign contributions and an army of lobbyists help keep corporate interests ahead of the public interest, and are calling on lawmakers to make the power companies more transparent and more accountable. 

“Our state’s monopoly power corporations have demonstrated how politically influential investments can be profitable,’’ said Dan Krassner, president of Integrity Florida and one of the authors of the report, Power Play: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations. “The volume of spending on campaigns and lobbying give this industry an outsized influence.”

The report was paid for with a grant from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), an advocacy group that wants Florida to adopt more electricity options. An advanced copy of the report, to be released Monday, was made available to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

The utilities vigorously reject the allegations, calling SACE an “anti-utility organization.” Story here.