Friday, September 30, 2016

The Arrogance of Florida Power & Light Knows No Bounds

In Doubling Down on Fossil Fuels, 

the Arrogance of Florida Power & Light Knows No Bounds


Florida Power & Light’s move to hike up its rates by $1.3 billion per year has brought together diverse opposition—including the Sierra Club, retirees on fixed incomes, hospitals, the U.S. military, and even Walmart Stores.
As part of the rate hike, FPL wants more than $2 billion for new natural gas-burning power plants in South Florida.
But the last thing Florida needs is more gas.
Already, nearly 70 percent of FPL’s electric generation relies on natural gas, while less than one-tenth of 1 percent comes from cheap, clean solar power. This, in the Sunshine State.
FPL’s exceptionally heavy reliance on natural gas exposes Floridians to price shocks in a volatile market, and produces heat-trapping, climate disrupting carbon dioxide. Our communities, and our natural resources, would be best protected by a diverse energy supply that includes more solar, energy storage, and energy efficiency.
Yet FPL’s CEO testified in August that the company actually plans to increase its reliance on dirty fossil fuels over the next 10 years. He also testified that FPL doesn’t plan to build more solar until 2021 even though headmitted solar is “cost-effective” now.
Other FPL witnesses admitted under oath that solar power today is cheaper than running FPL’s fossil plants, and that energy efficiency and other alternatives can be “very cost-effective” and help customers save money on their bills.
FPL has also admitted there was no reliability requirement, or any other legal mandate, to commit more than 1 billion dollars to swap and expand FPL’s existing gas plants with more gas plants.
FPL even admitted that if it had waited just a few more years, until 2020, it “very likely” could have made better, long-term investments in battery storage and renewables such as solar (See Sierra Club's post-hearing brief in the FPL rate case (FPSC Docket No. 160021) for a more detailed recap of FPL's admissions: http://www.psc.state.fl.us/library/filings/16/07663-16/07663-16.pdf.)
Almost no one likes FPL's proposal (except the company's shareholders, who would do quite well under the deal).
Consumer advocates are apoplectic that just to keep their lights on customers, especially those in lower income brackets, should have to pay so much more money to a company that is already raking in record profits. Large industrial facilities, whose electric bills can be thousands of times higher than homeowners’ and small businesses, fear any rate increase that harms their competitiveness in a global marketplace.
Florida also sits at climate ground zero. Yet it is building climate disrupting fossil plants at frenetic speeds—with the state’s largest utility, FPL, leading the charge. When Sierra Club and others asked FPL witnesses about the costs and risks of the company’s huge bet on fossils, they had no good answers. They admitted, for instance, not even measuring how FPL compares to other utilities given all the pollution from extracting natural gas through methods such as fracking, and then piping that fracked gas all the way from Texas and Pennsylvania.
Tellingly, FPL’s parent company, NextEra, is doing almost the exact opposite of FPL. NextEra has beenselling off its natural gas plants, bolstering its position as the world lead solar and wind developer (everywhere but Florida), and making significant investments in battery storage.
Back in Florida, where approximately half the state’s customers are stuck with FPL, state law requires all new major new power plants to undergo a thorough pre-construction review by the Florida Public Service Commission. Basically, a company like FPL is supposed to present the Commission—and the public—with substantial evidence to prove a new power plant is actually needed and the least cost option before building the plant or asking to raise customers' rates to cover the costs.
FPL admits it never did this. FPL’s CEO testified that the company never obtained (or even requested) pre-construction approval for the more than one billion dollar new and refurbished gas plants, using twisted logic to assert that the law doesn't apply.
Some observers are cynical about the rate case—now pending before the Commission. They point out that FPL wields a lot of influence in Tallahassee, and note that the company continues to be very generous with political donations to state elected officials.
But we are hopeful.
FPL doesn't appear to have met the basic minimum legal requirements for this rate increase, and its proposal to double down on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels is not in the public interest.
Here's to hoping the regulators tell FPL to go back to the drawing board, and let Floridians keep more of their money for themselves, not FPL’s shareholders and the out-of-state fracked gas industry. Click here to tell FPL you oppose rate hikes for more fossil fuels.