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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sierra Club files lawsuit to try to stop FPL rate hike



The Sierra Club asked the Florida Supreme Court Tuesday to block a $811 million rate hike by Florida Power & Light over the next four years, arguing that regulators violated state law when they failed to determine if a billion-dollar expansion of gas-powered power plants are needed.

The Florida Public Service Commission in November unanimously approved a settlement agreement reached by FPL and various consumer groups to raise utility bills by $400 million beginning in January, to be followed by $411 million in rate hikes in the next three years.

The Florida chapter of the Sierra Club and AARP opposed the settlement, arguing that if the utility giant stopped fighting the expansion of rooftop solar and other alternative forms of energy, its customers would save money and FPL could wean 70 percent of its fleet from its dependence on climate-change-inducing fossil fuels. AARP argues that the company should not be guaranteed excessive profits at the expense of customers.

The commission did not address any of the opponents’ concerns and instead touted the agreement as good for the customers and good for FPL.

“The settlement ... produces rates that are fair just and reasonable and in the public interest,” said PSC Chair Julie Brown. She commended FPL for “smart, prudent decisions” that have led to the lowest rates in the state.

But the lawsuit claims that the PSC failed the principle goal of its oversight of electric utilities: determining if the rate increases are the most prudent, least-cost option facing FPL and ruling out other low-cost options, such as solar or energy efficiency. FPL relies on gas for 70 percent of its electricity generation and Sierra Club and other environmental groups argue that the company has tried to suppress conservation and competition from rooftop solar because it makes a profit off of building new plants, but can't profit off conservation or competition.
p> FPL power lines


FPL responded with a statement that "Sierra Club is an extreme group that takes extreme positions,'' but did not address concerns about its excessive reliance on fossil fuels and attempts to suppress conservation. 

"The PSC is supposed to make sure our energy sources are safe, reasonable and reliable,” said Sierra Club Florida Chapter Chair Mark Walters in a press release.“Instead, they’ve chosen to let FPL leave us vulnerable to price spikes when investments in solar and energy efficiency are proving to be safer and cheaper in states across the country.”

 The group had submitted nearly 6,000 consumer comments to the commission from Floridians who said the rate increase posed an economic hardship for them. They said that many customers believed there is no need for the gas-burning power plants in Florida and urged the commission to reject the rate hike to finance the new gas turbines.
"FPL should take full advantage of our state’s clean energy potential instead of stubbornly building out dirty, unnecessary gas plants and pipelines that increase pollution and electric bills,” Walters said. “Renewable energy technologies are smarter, more cost-effective and safer than fossil fuels. FPL needs to stop propping up its stockholders at the expense of our communities and our natural resources."
Under the settlement, FPL agreed to invest in 1,200 megawatts of utility-scale solar expansion — which must be approved by the commission with a cost-effectiveness test — and to eliminate the practice of the natural gas hedging, which had resulted in millions of dollars in losses and enormous expense for customers.

Here is FPL's response from spokesperson Sarah Gatewood: 

The Sierra Club is an extreme group that takes extreme positions, so while we are disappointed, we’re not surprised at the actions taken today by this Washington-based lobbying group.   Apparently they’re more interested in generating headlines and donations than working with the cleanest electric company in Florida and the only electric utility in the Southeast United States to already be in compliance with the EPA’s 2030 Clean Power Plan today.  Rather than recognizing our innovative approach to running our business and the resulting significant benefits for all customers, including 1,200 megawatts of cost-effective new solar right here in Florida over the next four years, this out-of-state group is instead moving forward with more frivolous, expensive litigation that will cost all Floridians – not just FPL customers, but all Florida taxpayers.

After a nearly year-long process that included more than 30 witnesses, countless hours of cross examination by attorneys for all parties, including the Sierra Club, and hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence, FPL and the Office of Public Counsel, which represents all customers, as well as other major customer stakeholder groups, reached a fair settlement that is clearly in the best interest of all of FPL’s customers – and the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously agreed. The settlement supports billions of dollars in planned investments to continue improving FPL’s electrical infrastructure, which is already one of the cleanest and most reliable in the U.S., while still keeping typical customer bills lower than they were in 2006 through 2020. We look forward to demonstrating those benefits yet again.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 6:58pm]


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