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JEA, Other Utilities Wanted To Cut Energy-Efficiency Goals But Regulators Said No

Energy expert Dwayne Acosta gives energy-saving tips to a Pompano Beach resident.
Florida Power & Light Co.
Energy expert Dwayne Acosta gives energy-saving tips to a Pompano Beach resident.

In a surprising move, the Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday kept energy-conservation goals set in 2014, rather than slash goals to “zero” as proposed by JEA, Florida Power & Light Co. and other electric utilities.

Commissioners said they think it’s important to re-evaluate conservation goals and programs that provide consumer education on efficiency and rebate programs for new air conditioners and other improvements.

Related: JEA Projects No Energy Efficiency Gains As FL Utility Regulators Consider Next Debate

Juno Beach-based FPL issued a statement saying it appreciated the commission’s “rigorous debate and desire to ensure that energy efficiency programs are efficient.” But added, “We don’t believe our customers should overpay to save energy.” FPL maintains most rebate programs are not "cost-effective.”

Commissioner Julie Brown led the rejection of “zero or nearly zero” conservation goals proposed by the state’s electric utilities, saying the proposal “puts us at a critical juncture for our state.”

She said the current law over conservation goals is “outdated,” and that utilities outside the state used different tests for cost-efficiency of conservation goals that Florida should consider.

“I just don’t believe the evidence supports a lesser goal than what we approved in 2014," Brown said. “As the grid continues to evolve, I think the method of evaluating energy efficiency also needs to change,” she added.

Commissioner Donald Polmann initially made a motion to support the zero goal proposal and then withdrew it. He suggested working with the state Legislature to update Florida’s energy conservation law.

Conservation “is “like mom and apple pie, why would you not want them?” he said in re-evaluating his position on the matter.

In August, the commission heard arguments from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and others that homeowners could lose out on discounts for more energy-efficient air-conditioning units and other energy-reduction programs if the regulators allow Florida Power & Light Co. and other electric utilities in the state.

George Cavros, a lawyer for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in response to the commission’s vote: “Florida families and businesses got a reprieve today.” He said the continuation of the current goals, while low related to other states, are an improvement on the zero, or near-zero, goals proposed by the state’s power companies.

“Energy efficiency is and always has been the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs,” Cavros said.

Utilities proposed energy-reduction goals of “zero” or nearly zero.

Juno Beach-based FPL wanted a decrease in goals of 99.9 percent, to 1.03 gigawatt hours from 526 gigawatt hours in 2014.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that promotes clean energy, called FPL’s goal "laughable,” especially for Florida’s largest electric utility with more than 10 million customers. He said the goal would power "less than 10 homes.”

FPL CEO Eric Silagy defended this approach during a recent meeting with the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board. He said the rebate programs “subsidize the few" who install new windows, water heaters and air conditioners.

Silagy said rebates are gifts to people who would or should make such purchases anyway. The bulk of FPL customers who pay $1.50 per month toward the conservation program don’t make such improvements, he said.

The state utility regulator also is expected to address on Tuesday proposed rules governing projects to put power lines underground, part of a new state “storm protection” law.

The state Legislature approved a storm-protection bill last spring, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that allows FPL and other electric utilities to charge customers for putting neighborhood power lines underground.

The commission approved rules on Oct. 3 that would give utilities flexibility in reporting projects and their costs.

The Office of Public Counsel, the state’s consumer watchdog, said the rules exceeded the state law’s authority and asked for a hearing. “The proposed rules, as drafted, do not ensure that the ratepayers will not pay twice for storm protection and hardening as required by the statute,” the Public Counsel said in its filing.

Then a bit of in-fighting ensued.

The item was added to the commission’s agenda for Tuesday, but the Public Counsel said that was not enough time to prepare, and requested a proceeding that would allow them to present evidence and expert testimony. But the rules item remained on Tuesday’s schedule.

Also at Tuesday’s hearing, commissioner Gary Clark was named chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission for a two-year term beginning Jan. 1, 2020. He was appointed to the commission in 2017.

This is a developing story. See this South Florida SunSentinelpage for updates.

This story was produced in partnership with the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a multi-newsroom initiative founded by the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, the Orlando Sentinel, WLRN Public Media and the Tampa Bay Times.