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Consumer advocate wants court to stop regulators from allowing FPL fracking charges

Florida's consumer advocate in utility cases said Thursday he will ask the state Supreme Court to reverse a decision by state regulators to allow Florida Power & Light to charge customers for exploratory drilling for natural gas.

The Florida Public Service Commission last December gave approval to FPL's plan to ask customers to finance a venture into the controversial natural gas fracking business in Oklahoma. FPL plans to invest $191 million in a joint venture with PetroQuest Energy, Inc.

In July, regulators gave FPL permission to enter into agreements with other gas fracking companies and charge customers for their investment of up to $500 million a year, without seeking regulatory approval.

FPL argues the investments will help stabilize volatile future energy costs, saving customers about $100 million over 30 years or two cents a month for the average 1,000-kilowatt-hour bill.

But the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in utility rate cases, as well as the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, oppose the ruling and each filed a notice of appeal with the high court.

They argue there is no guarantee that the risk of shouldering the costs of gas drilling in an uncertain regulatory environment will produce benefits for ratepayers. They also say the decision gives the state's largest utility unprecedented permission to use ratepayer dollars to finance an energy exploration and production.

The PSC overruled its own staff when it approved the FPL request, allowing the company to become the the nation's first utility to use ratepayer money for what the staff called a "non-regulated risk."

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