News from Tallahassee for 8/1/15

Fracking: Florida uilities want you to pay posted on 12/15/14

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — The drilling process known as fracking holds promise in helping the United States achieve energy independence, but it has also drawn concern for its potential to cause widespread pollution of underground water supplies.

Now, two of Florida’s top utility companies — Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light — are adding fuel to the fires of debate over fracking with proposals to shift the high cost of exploration from their stockholders to their customers.

Tampa Electric Co. says it hasn’t decided yet whether it will want to sock its customers with these costs — or whether it even wants to get involved with fracking.

The term is short for hydraulic fracturing, and it’s a way to extract natural gas — the fuel that runs the turbines that produce electricity in most of Florida’s power plants.

The financing scheme, to charge utility customers the cost of risky exploration whether it pays off or not, may be the first proposal of its kind in the country.

“I have never heard of anything like this,” said Sharon Wilson, a gas and oil expert with Earthworks, a nonprofit energy-development watchdog. “But I guess nothing should surprise me anymore.”

Earlier this year, budget proposals before the North Carolina legislature would have spent taxpayer money on advertising the state as a site for fracking — a jobs and economic development measure — and used public dollars to pay for exploratory wells. The proposals did not pass.

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Bipartisan efforts target Florida utility companies, energy policies posted on 12/10/14

by JOSH BOATWRIGHT | tampa tribune

ST. PETERSBURG — Frustration about state energy policies and a market monopoly by big utility companies fueled the campaign rhetoric of Tampa Bay area Republicans and Democrats alike this fall.

The past few days have seen a flurry of bills promised and filed for the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee, an apparent first step in making good on those campaign trail vows.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has promised a bill to allow businesses to produce and sell solar energy, a way to encourage renewable energy through free-market means, he says.

Rep. Amanda Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, and newly-elected Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala say the bill they filed Monday is aimed at protecting consumers by pushing Duke Energy Florida to refund billions of dollars the company has charged users for nuclear power plants that never were built.

Placing term limits, among other strictures, on the governor-appointed body that regulates utility companies is the goal of yet another bill filed within the past week by two Republicans, Tarpon Springs Rep. Chris Sprowls and Lutz Sen. John Legg.

Many of these measures are old news to advocates for reform in Florida’s energy policy; in fact, variations of several of these bills have withered away in past legislative committees.

But renewable energy proponents are heartened by the growing number of legislators calling for the state government to take a more proactive stance on solar energy and other emerging technologies that drastically could change the way power is created and sold across Florida.

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FPL asks permission to drill for natural gas posted on 12/2/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— Florida Power & Light wants to get into the natural gas fracking business and it wants its customers to pay for it.

At a hearing on Monday, the state’s largest utility asked regulators for permission to charge customers up to $750 million a year to form a partnership with an Oklahoma oil and gas company because, it argues, the investment would help FPL stabilize fuel prices and save customers money.

How much? Estimates indicate the savings would be between $51 million and $107 million over the life of the project — or a total of 50 cents to $1 for the average customer over several years. In addition to the savings, FPL argues that customers also will benefit from less volatility in fuel prices.

In tapping a well that already produces gas, FPL argues, customers are unlikely to see price increases because exploration costs will be offset by savings from the investment — the first time any utility has asked to have its customers pay for gas exploration.

Opponents, representing the state’s largest commercial electricity users and the general public, had a simple response to the question before the Public Service Commission: “No thank you.”

They argued at a day-long hearing that the risks of operating the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, outweigh the rewards. They said FPL can’t be sure that the natural gas wells will produce enough gas to meet its needs and customers will shoulder the costs of dry wells, environmental impacts and market changes for the next 50 years.

“Fifty years is a long time to receive guaranteed profits on something that’s not guaranteed,’’ said Eric Sayler, an attorney for the Office of Public Counsel, which represents the public in cases before the Public Service Commission.c

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Florida regulators to decide on energy-efficiency goals, solar rebates posted on 11/25/14

by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

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."

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FPL wants customers to pay to fight water rules posted on 10/17/14

by Susan Salisbury | Palm Beach Post

Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to charge customers for “lobbying” against proposed revisions to the Clean Water Act is outrageous, an environmental coalition said Thursday.

FPL is asking the Florida Public Service Commission to allow it to collect $228,500 from its ratepayers for advocacy against the proposed water rules. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are in the midst of a rulemaking process that would more clearly define streams, wetlands and other bodies of water.

“ Florida Power & Light has the audacity to ask the Public Service Commission to use customer’s money to weaken clean water protections,” said Susan Glickman, Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The PSC is expected to hear Juno Beach-based FPL’s request Wednesday. A vote is scheduled in late November.

FPL spokeswoman Sarah Gatewood said advocating a position with the EPA is not considered lobbying. Laws specify that customer dollars cannot be used to pay for lobbying.

“We are not attempting to influence lawmakers or legislation. We are getting involved in the rule-making process with one of our regulators to protect our customers’ interests and prevent what could be extremely costly and unnecessary requirements,” Gatewood said.

The company’s analysis of four of its plants — Martin, Manatee, Sanford and Turkey Point — found that costs to retrofit the plants’ cooling ponds to comply with the proposed new standards could be $25 million or more per facility.

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