Thursday, November 23, 2017
Business

Florida vulnerable to energy price spikes, group warns

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE – Florida's overwhelming dependence on imported fuel for electricity and transportation makes the state vulnerable to spikes in prices and should lead to a renewed emphasis on energy efficiency and conservation, researchers and environmentalists told a House committee Wednesday.

The presentation of the latest study of the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act garnered increased attention from the members of the House Energy & Utilities subcommittee at a time when the state is weighing diversification of its energy mix against the high costs of building new power plants.

"What's the more important societal goal: reliability or cost?" asked Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven.

Added Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee: "What should we be doing?"

Edward Regan, of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida, told the committee that use of energy efficiency helps "you avoid building generators."

Florida utilities want to build as many as four new nuclear plants that would cost customers $50 billion. State leaders have seen nuclear as a way to diversify energy sources in Florida, where the bulk of electricity comes from natural gas plants.

While natural gas prices remain near historic lows, state officials worry that the over dependence on one energy source could make utility customers susceptible to high utility bills if prices began to rise.

But Susan Glickman, a lobbyist for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an environmental group, told the committee that many of the state's energy needs could be met with energy efficiency and effective planning, rather than building expensive new nuclear plants.

New power plants, Glickman added, benefit the utilities because power companies make money based on the capital cost of building a new electricity generator, rather than trying to conserve energy.

"What the utilities do is understandable because that is their business model," Glickman told the committee. "We don't use energy efficiency as a primary resource."

Instead, the state has put it eggs in the nuclear basket with an advance fee that enables utilities to charge their customers upfront for proposed nuclear plants, whether they build the projects or not.

For example, Duke Energy has spent more than $1 billion of customers' money for a proposed nuclear plant in Levy County, although the utility has yet to decide whether it will actually build the plant. If Duke does build the new plant, it wouldn't come online until at least 2024 and would cost $24 billion.

"You pick winners and losers when you shift 100 percent of the risk from shareholders to ratepayers," Glickman told the lawmakers.

Robert "Schef" Wright, a lawyer for the Florida Retail Federation, said the state could add to its energy diversity if it would allow retailers to compete in the electricity market. Wright said retailers would like to produce power with renewable energy such as solar on their rooftops and sell that power to the grid. But the state allows utilities to control the electricity market, so no one else can make money.

"Let market forces work in the private sector," Wright urged the lawmakers. "Don't exempt them, which the advance nuclear cost recovery does."

Williams said the energy efficiency study gives support for making changes to the state's energy policies, but it remains unclear whether lawmakers want to act on it.

"We have a (state energy efficiency study) we can use to hit them over the head with," Williams said. "The question is, is there the political will to do it?"

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said the questions from the committee highlighted the concern lawmakers have about the issue and that they are paying attention.

"This was refreshing," Rehwinkel Vasilinda said. "This was the most engaged meeting I've been at this year."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

Comments
Suburban-bound millennials and other 2018 housing trends to watch

Suburban-bound millennials and other 2018 housing trends to watch

What’s ahead for real estate in 2018? Zillow economists put their heads together and offered up a laundry list of forecasts and predictions. The chief one to remember? Inventory shortages of homes for sale which challenged the market in 2017 will pe...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Woman, 51, robbed in Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, police say

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman was robbed after a man followed her to her car in a mall parking lot Thursday night and fired one shot at her, police said. The 51-year-old woman, whose identity St. Petersburg Police are withholding, was not injured. She was...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Black Friday still a brick-and-mortar experience for some

Black Friday still a brick-and-mortar experience for some

TAMPA — Standing in a frantic line at Best Buy on Thanksgiving, one young woman beat the system when she showed off the receipt for her new TV, which she had just purchased on her phone. She was waiting to pick it up."I didn’t know you could do that,...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Updated: 1 hour ago
As Tampa Bay economy matures, more key people bear watching. Let’s get started.

As Tampa Bay economy matures, more key people bear watching. Let’s get started.

What’s coming down the economic pike for Tampa Bay? Who’s driving this metro economy into 2018 and beyond? Change — people, issues, business focus — can be a good thing. It keeps places like geographically challenged Tampa Bay nimble with fresh blood...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Inkwood Books among retailers banking on ‘Small Business Saturday’

Inkwood Books among retailers banking on ‘Small Business Saturday’

TAMPA — By Tuesday evening, at least 50 cardboard boxes were still stacked against the shop’s wall, each labeled clearly with a black sharpie."Biographies""Pets""Fiction""Music"While the front of the store and new children’s section was mostly in pla...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

ST. PETERSBURG — After six years of negotiations, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air and its flight attendants union reached a tentative contract to improve worker pay and benefits and solidify airline policies."We feel like it’s an agreement that is cert...
Published: 11/22/17
Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three dozen workers at ONE St. Petersburg, a luxury condo tower under construction in the heart of downtown, haven’t been paid in weeks and are owed thousands of dollars.With the holidays nearing, some of the men say they are ...
Published: 11/22/17
Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

Some cities faced with all-or-nothing medical marijuana rules are playing it safe

When it comes to weighing the options for regulating medical marijuana through the law passed this year, Dunedin city commissioners declared local governments face a "conundrum" and "a false dilemma."They said they would welcome a dispensary in the c...
Published: 11/22/17
More guns being detected at Tampa Bay area airports — and everywhere else

More guns being detected at Tampa Bay area airports — and everywhere else

TAMPA — Here’s some travel math for this traditionally heavy day for long trips: More people carrying guns plus more people flying equals more guns going to the airport.The numbers bear this out. The federal Transportation Security Administration has...
Published: 11/22/17