TAMPA — A Floridian who spends a miserly $100 a month on electricity is essentially treated the same as a mega-corporation whose utility bill is $1 million when it comes to the cost of energy efficiency.
They both pay a proportional share of the cost of their utility's energy-conservation programs.
But the Florida Public Service Commission is scheduled to open a hearing today on a proposal by Walmart and a group of big commercial energy users seeking to opt out of mandatory payments to fund conservation programs offered by the state's investor-owned utilities.
Walmart argues that big commercial electricity users that already take significant measures to institute their own conservation and energy-efficiency programs shouldn't have to foot the bill on utility programs they are not using.
The proposal is opposed by utilities, including Tampa Electric and Duke Energy Florida, which say big companies still benefit from utility conservation programs even if they do not participate since they lower electric demand for all and lower costs.
It isn't clear how much the proposal would save Walmart, which did not return a message seeking comment.
The PSC is unlikely to decide the issue immediately.
Utilities all offer a wide variety of programs to promote energy conservation, from rebates for installing energy-efficient central air conditioning to sharing the costs for attic insulation. Utilities are allowed to recoup those costs through charges to all customers, whether they participate in a program or not.
Duke residential customers, for example, pay $2.70 per 1,000 kilowatt hours.
"Large, energy-intensive customers already have strong incentives to invest in their own energy-efficiency measures," said the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, a group of large energy users that is making the proposal with Walmart.
The group said forcing companies to finance utility programs they do not use is unfair and "forces them to subsidize their competitors" who may not be as energy efficient.
Terry Deason, a TECO energy consultant, said in a PSC filing that the proposal was unfair to residential customers who will not have the luxury of opting out of payments.
"They conveniently ignore that residential customers also take conservation measures which are in their best economic interests," he said. "These and other such measures which are routinely pursued by residential customers are also beneficial.