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  1. Opinion

Editorial: PSC poised to side with Duke Energy, FPL again

Surprise, surprise. The Florida Public Service Commission this week is expected to gut energy efficiency goals for electric utilities and swallow the industry’s illogical argument that it costs more to conserve power than it does to build more power plants.
Published Nov. 21, 2014

Surprise, surprise, surprise. The Florida Public Service Commission this week is expected to gut energy efficiency goals for electric utilities and swallow the industry's illogical argument that it costs more to conserve power than it does to build more power plants. And those rebates for rooftop solar panels that the utilities hate? Kiss them goodbye. This is what happens in a state with no coherent energy policy and no political will to stand up to the power companies who won big in this month's elections.

Despite the reasonable objections by environmental groups and clean energy advocates, the PSC staff bought the arguments to slash conservation efforts by Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light. The staff recommendation notes that consumer demand for more power has slowed since the energy efficiency goals were set five years ago and that natural gas prices have dropped by roughly half. It says new federal efficiency standards for appliances and tougher state building codes also are reducing electricity use. But instead of building on those trends by recommitting to conservation, the PSC is poised to slash the utilities' energy efficiency goals by roughly 90 percent.

Never mind that the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and environmental groups argue that the utilities put big price tags on conservation so they can kill the programs. Never mind that the state is poised to gut conservation efforts just after the PSC approved Duke's plan to build a natural gas plant. Never mind that the PSC reports that the cost of more than 200,000 residential energy audits and 100 conservation programs in 2012 was no more than $5 a month for a typical residential customer.

Instead, the PSC has concluded Floridians would rather spend their money on building more power plants so utilities can make more money than on conserving electricity and investing in the future. More progressive states are emphasizing conservation and embracing policies that encourage investments in solar energy and other renewal energy sources. Not Florida, where Duke Energy and FPL just spent more than $2.5 million to help re-elect Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans who regularly side with them.

Perhaps some adjustment in energy efficiency goals to reflect market changes over the last five years could be justified. The problem is there is no reason to trust the PSC to be an objective regulatory panel. This is the PSC that signed off on a one-sided settlement that forces Duke Energy customers to pay more than $3 billion for nuclear plants that are broken or will never be built. This is a PSC staff that endorsed billing Duke customers $54 million for nuclear parts that were never produced and that Duke never received for a plant that will never be built (eventually the PSC rejected that). And this is a PSC where the rules apparently allowed Duke to charge ratepayers more just because of changes in meter reading routes until public outrage forced Duke to apologize and refund the money.

Now Floridians are supposed to trust the PSC is right Tuesday when it sides with the utilities to cut energy efficiency goals by 90 percent?

The system is rigged, and it will not change unless consumers and businesses continue to raise their voices and act on their own. Public outcry forced the PSC to reject some nuclear costs and Duke to refund some money. It also is prompting some legislators to take another look at the 2006 law that enabled Duke to bill ratepayers for phantom nuclear plants. And private companies are proceeding with ambitious plans to install solar panels, regardless of the state's resistance to smart renewable energy goals.

If Florida is to ever create a progressive energy policy for the 21st century, the demand will have to come from residents and businesses. It won't originate from the governor and the Legislature, which are controlled by FPL and Duke. And it certainly won't come from the PSC, which would rather build more power plants than conserve electricity.

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