The Sunshine State: License Plate Slogan or License to Steal?

The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC)  is not even pretending to be objective anymore: they have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Power & Light (FPL) and the other monopoly electric utilities in Florida!

Billions of customer dollars are at stake in decisions about what resources the power companies will use, and the PSC holds the power to make those decisions in a presumably fair and evenhanded manner. At the recent Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA) goal-setting conference, goals for energy efficiency and for the promotion of demand-side renewables like rooftop solar were being set. During the conference, PSC Chairman Art Graham decided to parrot a few utility solar talking points for a few moments while PSC staff stumbled to answer a question from a fellow commissioner. What came out (see video below) was a glimpse into the mind of a chairman who, while supposedly regulating the state’s big monopoly electric power companies in an impartial manner, foreshadowed his intention to further undermine the solar power market in Florida.

In the video, Chairman Graham states outright that the often-quoted fact that Florida has the third largest technical potential for rooftop solar is “not factual.” He gives his source for this claim as nothing less than the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), although he does not cite a specific report. He goes on to state that Florida is really “22nd in the nation for solar energy.” He also declares, without citing a source, that Florida is 5th for rainfall, and therefore Florida’s Sunshine State branding should be viewed as nothing more than a “license plate slogan.” Graham delivers these tidbits with a satisfied smile at having corrected the misleading “solar facts” that “you read in the paper all the time.”

Well, “facts” can be dangerous in the hands of someone who does not know how to apply them and is attempting to nefariously mislead the public.

So for Chairman Graham, let’s separate the facts from his misleading statements.

Misleading: Our review of his statements found that the most likely NREL report used for Chairman Graham’s misleading assertions is the July 2012 U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS Based Analysis.

In the report, NREL provides three technical potential estimates for solar photovoltaic (PV) generation by state, including the technical potential of rural utility-scale solar PV, urban utility-scale solar PV, and rooftop solar PV. It appears Graham selected rural utility-scale solar PV as his red herring for Florida’s lack of solar potential. Indeed, Florida is ranked 22nd among other states in this category, however it is important to note that the calculation is heavily weighted toward a given state’s total rural landmass, putting states like Alaska far ahead of Florida due to their geographic size. Surely Chairman Graham does not believe that Alaska is really a better solar market than Florida.

Fact: If Chairman Graham’s dubious fact-finding mission had only gone one page further in the report to the chart found on page 12, he would have seen that Florida is indeed ranked 3rd in the nation for total estimated technical potential for rooftop solar photovoltaics in the United States – a fact he proudly claims to have dispelled.

Source: NREL

Misleading: Mr. Graham’s statement that Florida is a leading state for rainfall seemed to imply that the state would have less sunshine than other states in our region.

Fact: Again looking to NREL’s data, the chart below shows Florida clearly has the best solar resource east of the Mississippi River.

So the question remains: Why would the Chairman of Florida’s PSC demonstrate such a lack of concern for the truth and make such misleading statements?

Sadly, the comments by the Chair and several of his fellow Commissioners all point to a well-orchestrated plan to further undermine the rooftop solar market for homes and businesses in Florida.

First, the PSC gutted energy efficiency opportunities for customers – even though efficiency can meet demand at a fraction of the cost of building new power plants and can help customers reduce energy use and save money on their bills.  The goals approved by the Commission are stunning rollbacks compared to the goals set by the PSC in 2009, ranging from 77% to 99% reductions in customer energy savings.

So, with those pesky “non-cost effective” efficiency programs out of the way, monopoly utilities have turned again to Chairman Graham’s commission to have them review the threat of non-utility solar power to the poor electric customers in Florida. The Commission, in ending the popular solar rebate program, plans to hold to a “workshop” next year on solar power policy. The discussion by Commissioners Bablis, Brise and Chairman Graham questioning the value of programs, such as net metering, that support customer-owned solar power, provides additional foreshadowing of the monopoly utility biases at work with this Commission in advance of the “workshop”.

The line between the PSC and the monopoly utilities they are charged with regulating has become increasingly blurred. The massive amount of money poured into political contributions and lobbying by the state’s monopoly utilities is clearly paying off at the PSC – to the detriment of Florida customers. The PSC is motivated to continue to do the bidding of the monopoly utilities who see a robust market in non-utility owned solar projects as a threat to their monopoly utility business model.

If Florida were to open its energy market to companies who could help finance solar power for commercial and residential consumers, the monopolies would finally have a little competition. For big power companies like FPL, this would represent a dangerous intrusion of the free market, like a camel’s nose under the monopoly tent they have enjoyed to date. Since FPL cleared over $1 billion in profits in 2014, is it any surprise that they would do everything in their power to preserve this largesse by capturing and influencing the very PSC regulators who grant them rate increases and the licenses to build multi-billion dollar power plants that guarantee 10-12% annual returns on these enormous investments?

Should we feel good about the leadership of Chairman Graham? He is supposed to lead his colleagues to impartially protect the electric power consumers’ interest against billion-dollar monopoly enterprises like FPL. The record demonstrates anything but consumer protection – just look again at the historic roll back of the state’s energy efficiency goals. Instead of protecting consumers, Chairman Graham has led the commission to side with the utilities. In doing this, the PSC is arguing that it is better for Florida’s monopoly electric utilities to build more power plants and enlarge their cash generating assets than to offer programs to residents and businesses that would help consumers use energy more efficiently and save money, decreasing utilities’ sales and the need for the new power plants.

Yes, it’s clear why Chairman Graham would assert that the Sunshine State is “just a license plate slogan.” See, if you are going to oversee a “fair” hearing on solar power in Florida, you want your billion dollar electric power monopoly handlers to know you have done your “research” and you have your “facts” straight.

 

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6 Comments

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I would love to comment here but I saw earlier this year how well the PSC protects regular people when all of the major ISPs in Florida started putting caps on Data limits in your home as well as the limits already of the individual’s Cell Service. I Signed the petitions and sent my letters off but they did nothing to alleviate the 150gig cap AT&T puts on DSL lines and 250Gig cap Comcast and ATAT offer on there internet services like Uvers and Xfinity. Why would the PSC want to help the individual home owner and business owner by supporting Solar power in Florida too. I have no Idea what we and people can do to change this but I would do what ever i could (legally) Anyone who streams more the na movie a day will see an increase of their internet bills and home with tablets and PCs and Laptops and gaming consoles all over the same ISP will see an increase of 10 to 15 percent on their bills monthly if they look closely at their bills. For the Solar industry a 10Kw array might cost them 50,000 to buy and install and will only save them about $50.00 a month but for the big franchises like FPL that times 1000 homes hurts there pocket as that 1000 homes would mean the electric company lost over half a million a year. Aww what a shame the CEos won;t get those 6 figure bonuses at the end of the year… By the same token 1000 DSL Lines going over 150gigs will add an extra 10,000 a month to the pockets of AT&T (would quoate the rates for Uverse and Xfinity but don’t have those my self so not sure but 12ok (give or take) for 1000 users on DSL Annually means smiler rates to the big wigs pockets with Comcast and AT&T Uveser as well. Those limits are 250gigs a month, a bit higher but still 1 High Def Movie a day streamed would raise that data fast and new digital downloads of games like Titan fall on the Xbox One is a 54 Gig Download so that implies 5 new games in one month would put a Comcast or Uvese user over their 250 gig limit and people like me still on DSL can only download 3 games a month to go over my limit and get billed an additional 10.00 per 50gogs of data…… My Steam games folder got corrupt and just to re-download all my games is 500 gigs so I am at an extra $60.00 additional on my DSL Bill in October… That is some real BS. I want solar to lower my cash out put as my bill is in the $400.00 and higher per month if I could knock 50.00 a month off that I could put a bit more cash in to living better rather then struggling to pay my FPL bill but this PSC guy does not care about me nor the millions of other in Florida he is hurting as ling as he gets his 6 figure bones every year for the big utilities… if 1 million Floridians are billed 10.00 a month extra for their Internet that is 10,000,000 dollars extra just for the ISPs and I have no clue about the Electric companies but figuring a 5.00 a month increase in 40 million Floridians is a whopping $160,000,000.00 the electric companies would get from Florida. 5.00 is an guess-timent of the increase in out electric bills to supposedly pay for the new power plants. if 20 million of us had that solar area the people of Florida would have an extra Billion Dollars Floridians would be putting back into their local communities… over 1 billion dollars with that Florida alone could pay off a hell of a lot of Debt most of us owe these days. but the 100k Bonus (Give or take), this chairman is going to pocket is all he is concerned about….


Comment by James Eischen on December 5, 2014 10:50 am


Like every other monopoly the power companies will get there way, unless the public as a whole rises up and tells the politicians and corporations this is wrong. Most citizens in Florida have become complacent about there electric rates and if not enough people complain or seek alternatives the Power companies could care less, I am surprised that they make the Token efforts for renewables that they do. Almost all incentives have been taken away at the State level and any that remain will be gone soon, the current governor and state politicians have very little interest in any alternatives or renewables. Unless the people unite as a majority and tell the politicians and power companies that we want these instead of Coal and other Fossil fuels, nothing will get done. The PSC has always sucked up to Large corporations and nothing is going to change that, unless the people March on Tallahassee like the people marched on Frankenstein’s Castle.


Comment by BobCannizzaro on December 6, 2014 9:34 am


Power companies are the classic definition of a monopoly distribution channel. They make money by keeping competition out and pumping more revenue through the existing investment. If less energy moves through it, they have fewer opportunities to make money. Power companies love alternative power that has concentrated capital requirements and geographic concentration. Basically they like all power that has to pay them a cut to get to the consumer. Distributed power with lower capital costs that consumers can conceivably use without paying the distribution cost is dangerously distruptive to the power companies business model. They like hings like wind power and hydro, you and I will not be putting a windmill next to our house or damming up any rivers. That power has to back through their network and they get to charge for the distribution network because you have no alternative. Solar that consumers pop up on their roofs and pay back in 7 years is incredibly scary to a power company. They can’t make money delivering the power to you.

The PSC is owned by the power companies. It makes sense, they have a lot of money invested in these monopolies and the best way to protect them is keep competition out. Distributed consumer generated power is competition and any business wants to avoid this. Politicians appoint the PSC members and frankly Tallahassee politicians are pretty inexpensive to buy. I suspect the power companies spend less than 5 million a year buying the right to heavily influence the PSC member selection process. 5 million is pretty inexpensive to guarantee your monopoly power. Small price to pay.

The fact that Mr. Graham trotted out a dubious argument is just business as usual, that is his job really. Find a report that supports your position and hammer away. Taxpayers and reporters rarely take interest in these sorts of things. He and his staff just got a little lazy on this one botched their homework assignment. They will do better next time.

What should be driving this argument is competition. Competition and low barriers to entry bring the benefits of the invisible hand to marketplace. The power companies need to be broken up into distribution monopolies and separate the electricity sale into a competitive marketplace. The distribution portion is a natural monopoly. The sale of power is not. Let them charge for the network and the connection to the grid. Let their power generation side sell through that distribution grid and compete with other sellers, including consumers that generate their own power. This is the last thing an existing monopoly would want though. I suspect collectively the existing state monoplies would be willing to spend hundreds of millions per year to keep the party going. 5 or 10M to own the PSC is chump change.


Comment by Bob on December 7, 2014 10:10 am


James E,
Sir I agree wholeheartedly with you on every thing you had to say except one statement
“For the Solar industry a 10Kw array might cost them 50,000 to buy and install and will only save them about $50.00 a month”
I can put you a 10KW system on your home for 16.5KUSD and use a battery system and you can forget about subsidies, net metering , co-generating , because I will remove the most KW heavy Items from the FPL bill and the only thing left will be your lighting and appliances about 35 to 50USD per month(depends on People)…(not one damn thing the utility nor the municipality can do about it) you are still hooked to the grid….
Kindly look At the real time Generation of this 5K home in Jupiter Fl that has been built now for 3yrs…
https://www.mypvpower.com/dashboard/174

Now go see the erection of the first low cost solar housing in the USA:
http://EPHOT.info


Comment by JD Polk on December 9, 2014 9:21 pm


Great interview this morning on WJCT – Jacksonville. Want to become involved. Looking for Stephen Smith contact info.


Comment by Bill Webb, MIRM on January 20, 2015 11:13 am


Hi Bill – we’d love to have your support on this ballot initiative in Florida. Here’s are the most important actions you can take to support solar in the Sunshine State:
• Print and sign the petition (http://bit.ly/FLsolarpetition) and mail it to: Floridians for Solar Choice; 120 E. Oakland Park Blvd. Suite 105; Fort Lauderdale, FL 33334
• Forward the information to your networks and encourage your family and friends to print and sign the petition
• Sign up to volunteer to gather signatures: https://docs.google.com/a/cleanenergy.org/forms/d/17-sOGtOdexag_oEj_uHWIycobljVr3IuaZsd9lDB98I/viewform
• Contribute to the campaign: http://flsolarchoice.causevox.com/
• Like and share this campaign’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/flsolarchoice) and Twitter page (@flsolarchoice) (using the hashtag #flsolarchoice)


Comment by Jennifer Rennicks on January 21, 2015 11:27 am


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