Florida PSC rejects four utilities’ conservation plans

The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday rejected energy conservation plans for three utilities after staff said they failed to meet the aggressive annual goals established by the commission. The utilities have 30 days to resubmit the plans.

The PSC set the goals for seven utilities in December under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act of 1980. In 2008, the Legislature revised the law to increase the emphasis on reducing power use.

Plans were submitted by the utilities in March. But the PSC on Tuesday rejected the plans from Progress Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co. because agency officials said they failed to meet goals each year as required although the utilities said the plans met cumulative goals by 2020.

Some utilities said the cost of meeting the goals each year would be high for customers without any additional benefit over the long-term. Progress Energy says it would cost $6.38 per month in 2011 for the average residential customer compared to $14.08 to meet the PSC annual goals.

“To move to the higher goals we have,” Progress Energy attorney John Burnett said, “there is no hanging fruit left for us.”

The Florida Industrial Power Users Group said it supports Progress Energy’s proposed gradual approach. A large customer now pays about $34,000 per month for the utility’s energy programs and that will increase to $306,000 per month if the PSC annual goals must be met, said Vicki Gordon Kaufman, an attorney representing the group.

“I don’t think I have to harp much on what that might do to business and industry [and] the creation of jobs we are all trying to move to in this economic downturn,” Kaufman said.

But the PSC staff and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is an intervener in the case, questioned the Progress Energy estimated costs.

“I would like to put all the companies on notice — staff will look at their expenditures and will be requesting justification before cost recovery is allowed,” said Bob Trapp, the PSC’s assistant director of regulatory analysis.

PSC Commissioner Art Graham responded: “That sounds like a shot across the bow — beware.” Some PSC members said they understand that action is needed to promote conservation but they also are concerned about increasing utility customers’ electric rates.

The commission voted 5-0 to require the utilities to resubmit their plans but also allowed them to include solar programs that previously were excluded.

The commission approved the plan for JEA, formerly the Jacksonville Electric Authority, as submitted and recommended by PSC staff. The commission on Aug. 31 approved a plan submitted by the Orlando Utilities Commission. Action on plans submitted by Florida Power & Light Co. and the Florida Public Utilities Co. are scheduled for review on Sept. 28.

Photo courtesy of NREL and the Community Services Consortium. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)