PSC approves Gulf Power conservation plan after initial rejection

The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday approved an energy conservation plan for Gulf Power Co. after initially rejecting a plan submitted by the utility last fall.

Gulf Power, the state’s fourth largest investor-owned utility with more than 430,000 customers, was one of four utilities whose “demand-side management” conservation plans were rejected initially by the commission because they did not meet the state’s conservation goals. The other utilities who were required to resubmit plans were Florida Power & Light Co., Progress Energy and Tampa Electric Co.

Gulf Power submitted a revised plan that forecast higher participation in conservation programs including one that involves using more energy-saving compact-fluorescent bulbs. The average customer could pay $5.06 more per month by 2014 for energy-savings programs, according to the PSC. The plan will save 183 megawatts of electricity over ten years, enough to power about 50,000 homes.

George Cavros, an attorney representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said conservation saves money for utility customers and is cheaper than building new power plants. But the group also has raised concerns that Florida utilities are over-estimating the cost of conservation measures.

“There may be considerable potential to reach the commission approved goals with more reliance on lower cost programs,” Cavros said.

Gulf Power is eager to get started with its conservation plan, said Steven Griffin, an attorney representing the utility. The company also submitted a plan to reduce rate increases while meeting two-thirds of the PSC conservation goals.

“We are doing everything we can to minimize costs to our customers,” Griffin said. “We obviously have an interest in doing that.”

Commissioner Eduardo Balbis said he wanted to know how many jobs were being created through conservation. Gulf Power representatives said they didn’t have such figures while acknowledging that those jobs would be created by customers having to pay more for the conservation programs.

Commissioner Ron Brisé said he hopes the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy will help the utility reach customers to encourage participation.

“It seems there is only one group [Gulf Power] that is burdened with making sure this happens,” Brisé said. “I just hope this becomes a larger community effort so we gain as much as we possibly can from savings.”

TECO’s revised plan was approved in November and Progress Energy’s revised plan is scheduled for review on Feb. 22. FPL must submit a revised plan next month. Plans for the Orlando Utility Commission, the Florida Public Utilities Co. and JEA were approved last year.