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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy filed a petition Monday to block a St. Lucie nuclear reactor from returning to service until the public vets unusual wear inside the plant's steam generators.
In a complaint to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Southern Alliance accused the NRC of allowing unit two of the St. Lucie nuclear complex to operate outside of its license.
The Southern Alliance argued that plant owner Florida Power & Light omitted components without formal NRC approval, contributing to premature steam generator tube wear.
"We are troubled that the NRC is allowing FPL to operate unit two essentially in an experimental state due to the significant modifications that have occurred with the steam generator replacements," said Stephen Smith, Southern Alliance's executive director.
Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman, dismissed the group's claims as just part of an "antinuclear" agenda.
"This petition is not about the safety of St. Lucie," he said. "It's a transparent attempt by an out-of-state, antinuclear group to advance a political agenda."
The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved without comment a request by Florida Power & Light to dismiss its $822 million request to rebuild 48 gas turbine plants at locations in Broward and Lee counties while it conducts environmental tests.
But FPL got a sense of the intensity of the opposition to the plan when two attorneys, representing the public and the state's largest utility users, sent a warning shot with a rare statement on the record.
FPL is proposing the project because it believes it must replace 48 small 1970s-era power plants to comply with new federal air emission standards. More here.
But FPL wants to pay for the new plants in an unconventional way: as a fee tacked onto customer bills under the environmental cost recovery clause, intended for costs associated with complying with environmental laws.
Charles Rehwinkel, lawyer with the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in utility cases, said his office vigorously opposes using the environmental fee to charge customers for new power plants. He argued the issue is better addressed in a full rate case.
Rehwinkel quoted from the records from 1994 legislative session, when the sponsor of the amendment who passed the law to create the environmental clause said it “was to be interpretted in the most restrictive fashion by the Public Service Commission” and was “not to authorize recovery of new power plant construction costs.”
The provision passed 106-0 in the House and was sent to the Senate and became law that year.
John Butler, attorney for FPL, said Rehwinkel's reading of legislative history "is selective" and "if we proceed down a similar path we will be asking for ECRC recovery."
Jon Moyle, attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, who represents some of the largest eleectricity users in the state, said if the PSC allows FPL to bring the issue back it should be considered a separate rate increase and undergo the scrutiny of a rate request, instead of the lower level of scrutiny allowed when it is attached to an environmental clause.
The 48 gas turbines that the company uses to fire up quickly during peak demand rely on 1970s-era technology. Although the company touts a record of having power plants that are “67 percent cleaner than the national average,” it also acknowledges that these older so-called “peaker” plants emit some of the most toxic pollutants.
In order to comply with the new standard, FPL decided it was time to replace all of its peak demand turbines between now and 2016 and, in June, it proposed a $822 million project. The costs would be borne by customers based on a monthly fee – FPL estimates it is less than 75-cents a month for customers that use 1,000 kilowatt hours – and added to the portion of the bill used to comply with environmental regulations.
The proposal would allow the company to replace aging generators in Broward and Lee counties, avoid a lengthy rate review by utility regulators, update its emissions technology and still give the company a revenue boost that would allow it to increase its profits.
But not everyone agrees with FPL that this was the right approach and, on Tuesday, FPL will ask the Public Service Commission to dismiss its proposal while it conducts a series of environmental tests. The goal, the company said, is to come back and ask for the rate increase again, once the tests are complete.
“It could be the same project; it could be a different project,’’ said Mark Bubriski, Florida Power & Light spokesman. More here.
In his election bid, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist is making an issue of renewable energy. He touted alternative energy as a way to attract new industries and new jobs to Florida on the Nov. 18, 2013, edition of MSNBC’sThe Ed Show.
"We’re the Sunshine State, and we’re hardly doing any solar energy production," Crist told host Ed Schultz. "We should be the global leader in solar energy."
Crist later told PolitiFact that Florida Power & Light has a "pretty significant solar field," but added that "we can be doing so much more, in my humble opinion. ... My understanding is that many other states encourage the use of solar energy much more than Florida" does.
PolitiFact looks at Crist’s claim to see if he's right about Florida's solar energy production.