SACE urges regulators not to dial back energy-savings goals in Florida

This coverage and Susan Glickman’s opinion-editorial ran in the Orlando Sentinel on July 25, 2014 and can be viewed in its entirety here.

Front Burner: Dial back energy-savings goals? 

Sparks flew in Tallahassee this week as representatives of electric utilities and conservation advocates faced off over the future of the state’s energy-savings requirements for power companies.

Utilities in Florida must charge a fee on power bills of several dollars a month to cover the cost of rebates that the companies provide to customers who take steps to save energy, such as upgrading their insulation or buying more- efficient applicances. Under another state mandate, utilities must subsidize the cost for customers who install solar panels on their rooftops.

This week the Florida Public Service Commission convened hearings to address these and other policies as part of a five-year review of conservation goals for utilities.

Most of the utilities have asked the regulators to scale back those goals, arguing that conservation efforts have been working, and their customers will end up paying more if they remain subject to the same mandates to squeeze out more efficiency. The utilities want the conservation fee reduced, and the solar subsidy eliminated.

But conservation advocates contend utilities are trying to boost their profits through higher energy use. The advocates insist more savings are possible, and are critical to meeting new federal targets for reducing carbon pollution.

Today’s Front Burner pits a representative of the group leading the charge for more conservation against the CEO of Florida’s biggest utility:

Efficiency cuts pollution, costs

By Susan Glickman Guest columnist

The Florida Energy Office — led by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — weighed in on conservation goals for the big utilities at the Florida Public Service Commission this week. Utilities are regulated by the PSC, which takes its marching orders from state leaders.

Shockingly, the utilities’ proposed goals effectively eliminate energy-efficiency programs in Florida. Behemoth Florida Power & Light Co. proposes to slash its goals 99 percent — failing to offer any meaningful energy savings whatsoever.

Putnam thinks that’s just fine. He concluded, “The companies’ proposed goals appear to be an adequate assessment of the full technical potential of all available demand-side and supply-side conservation and efficiency measures.”

Florida utilities claim they’ve exhausted the potential. How is that when 20 states capture at least five to 10 times as much efficiency as we do? In the Pacific Northwest, where they’ve been deploying meaningful programs for 30 years, they found they can meet 85 percent of the growth in demand anticipated over the next 20 years with efficiency.

In 2007, the city of Tallahassee thought it would invest in a coal plant but instead — through good utility planning — found it could meet that need with efficiency more cost effectively, creating local jobs in the process.

Florida utilities employ a flawed analysis that is random and arbitrary to defend the reductions using the most restrictive cost-benefit test. They disregard low-cost measures that, if deployed, could scale back or eliminate the need for them to follow through with their plans to generate more power by building more plants over the next decade.

Do we really want to build expensive new power plants and leave cheap efficiency on the table? In 2001, Gov. Jeb Bush said, “The cheapest, easiest and fastest kilowatt we can generate is the one we save through efficiencies. There is a consensus on conservation and efficiency, so let’s start there.”

This is urgent. Florida must meet new limits on carbon pollution. Energy efficiency and solar are how we do that cost effectively. Done right, we could create more than 10,000 new jobs and save consumers almost $30 million a year.

But because monopoly utilities are awarded a rate of return on capital expenditures, the incentive is on building plants. The more they spend, the more they make.

According to the Energy Information Administration, annual electricity expenditures are already 40 percent higher for Floridians than the national average. Meanwhile, the PSC gave all four investor-owned utilities a rate increase in the past 18 months.

Putnam is not alone in his support. In May, he and his colleagues on the Florida Cabinet — Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — voted to certify 2,200 megawatts of new uber-expensive nuclear reactors on Biscayne Bay near Miami, a place highly vulnerable to sea-level rise.

At significantly lower cost, with efficiency utilities could offset that power within seven years, with additional energy savings in subsequent years. By the time the reactors could come online, there would be no need for the power or the resulting rate increases.

The facts are crystal clear. Bush said it. There is consensus.

What’s clouding the picture is the influence of the utilities. Over the past five years, they contributed $18 million to legislators and spent $12 million on lobbyists, according to Integrity Florida. Since 2012, FPL gave nearly $3 million to the campaigns of the governor, the Cabinet and the Republican Party of Florida, according to the Miami Herald.

The PSC and lawmakers should protect the public, not campaign contributors.

Susan Glickman is Florida director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

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