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Florida power companies ask state regulators to let them retreat from energy-saving goals. Again.

Florida’s investor owned utilities are in the midst of a hearing that will determine their energy efficiency goals for the next five years. Pictured are solar panels on a home in Dunedin. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2018)]
Published Aug. 16

Editor's note: Tampa Electric Co.'s proposed efficiency target increased from its 2014 goal. An earlier version of this story misstated the change.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's investor-owned utilities are asking state regulators to let them back away from prior pledges to promote energy and conservation. That could put power-saving discount programs for customers in jeopardy.

At a hearing that has stretched into its second day on Tuesday, representatives from utilities, including Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co., testified that continuing to provide programs to help customers save energy aren't cost effective.

Environmentalists say the existing energy-saving programs weren't particularly ambitious to begin with.

"Florida does not have meaningful energy efficiency programs," said Susan Glickman, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "The big investor-owned utilities are at the hearing this week to make it worse."

The state requires publicly-owned utilities and some municipal utilities to set goals every five years for how much energy they will save by encouraging their customers cut down on their power use and make upgrades to their homes and businesses, such as buying more energy-efficient appliances.

Across the board, the state's utilities proposed benchmarks that both environmentalists and state consumer advocates called "zero" goals, for how little energy savings they produce. Tampa Electric Co. asked to increase its goal slightly for how much energy savings its programs will produce to 165 gigawatt hours annually, up about 14 percent from its last goal in 2014, Duke requested a 15 percent reduction to 166 gigawatt hours. Florida Power & Light, which serves much of South Florida, asked for a nearly complete withdrawal from prior conservation pledges, a 99 percent drop to 1.03 gigawatt hours.

Utilities hit these marks by providing their customers with programs such as discounts or rebates for home appliances or LED light bulbs. Because their goals are smaller than they were five years ago, fewer programs will be available for customers.

"This is one area where you're telling a company to come up with a program designed to tell its customers, 'Buy less of my product,'" said J.R. Kelly, lawyer with the Office of Public Counsel. Kelly's office represents utility customers before the Florida Public Service Commission.

Utilities reason that customers are already undertaking some cost-saving measures on their own.

"Changes in building codes and standards and economic conditions have increased the amount of efficiency that customers are undertaking on their own without incentive from the utility," Duke said in its filing. "These factors reduce the number of programs and measures that (Duke) can cost-effectively offer its customers."

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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