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Florida regulators to decide on energy-efficiency goals, solar rebates

Florida’s top power companies contend that it is too costly to continue programs offering rebates for the installation of solar power networks, such as those from Sunworks Solar at the Florida State University zero-emission house in Tallahassee.
Florida’s top power companies contend that it is too costly to continue programs offering rebates for the installation of solar power networks, such as those from Sunworks Solar at the Florida State University zero-emission house in Tallahassee.
Published Nov. 25, 2014

State regulators in Tallahassee are expected to decide today whether to back proposals by Florida utilities to gut their energy-efficiency goals by more than 90 percent and end programs that offered rebates for solar installations.

Ahead of the state Public Service Commission decision, environmental groups and solar backers warned during a conference call with the news media Monday that a vote in favor of the utilities' proposals could push Florida further behind the majority of the nation for the next decade.

Earlier this month, PSC staffers recommended that their bosses back the utilities' proposals.

"Unfortunately, they're not looking out for Florida families," Tim Heberlein, an organizer for the Sierra Club of Florida, said during the call. "Florida was already on the bottom half of states. The decision tomorrow will lock in energy efficiency goals for the next five to 10 years."

Added St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell: "The city of St. Petersburg is committed to energy efficiency. Clearly, it's cost effective, and clearly it works."

The state's utilities — including Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light — argued during hearings this past summer that energy-efficiency and solar rebate programs have become too costly to continue. The utilities said it's cheaper for them now to produce a kilowatt of electricity at their power plants than to save it.

At the same time, the utilities are proposing to build billions of dollars worth of new power plants.

In their recommendations, commission staff members agreed. The "utilities correctly calculated the costs and benefits to the customers participating in the energy savings and demand reduction measures," the staff wrote.

In addition, the staff said the solar rebate programs should be allowed to expire in December 2015 because they "represent a large subsidy from the general body of ratepayers to a very small segment of each utility's customers."

Critics of the utilities' energy-efficiency and solar proposals said the power companies simply distorted their figures to make it appear as though the programs are too costly so they can continue to make profits building power plants.

The proposals to alter the efficiency goals and solar rebates led to one of the largest protests at the PSC in recent times.

More than 100 protesters from across the state gathered outside the commission before the hearings this summer on the utilities' proposals. The crowd called on the commission to protect consumers over the interests of the power companies.

The response so far has been a commission staff recommending in favor of the utilities.

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"The utilities are getting what they wanted," Scott McIntyre, president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy and owner of Solar Energy Management, said during Monday's news conference. "It's a sad day for Florida."

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

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