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Economy / Business

Public Utility Conservation Goals Upheld by State Regulators

TECO's  Big Bend Power Station
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TECO's Big Bend Power Station

Florida's public utilities will still have to set goals to reduce public consumption of energy. That's the result of a move Tuesday by the state's Public Service Commission.
Commissioners voted four-to-one to reject efforts to allow investor-owned utilities to reduce their energy efficiency and conservation goals to near zero.

The moves were proposed by utilities, who argued tougher building codes and energy-efficient appliances would reduce energy consumption more than things like attic insulation and rebates for new windows and LED light bulbs.

Commisisoners rejected the recommendation of their staff, which sided with the utilities, who said they have better, more cost-effective ways to cut energy use.

Susan Glickman of the non-profit conservation group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy lauded continuing the current efficiency goals.

"Today, we had a victory, and we'll be continuing the goals from 2014," she said. "And while they're anemic, they are preferable to the zero goals that would have gutted energy efficiency entirely."

Every five years, Florida law requires the PSC to set energy conservation goals for the state’s biggest utilities. In 2014, the state’s major public utilities got regulators to cut their goals by 90 percent.

Glickman said the current program is vital for lower-income people.

"They're the ones who need the most education and assistance," Glickman said, "which may include rebates for insulation, or for new air conditioners, to get a more efficient air conditioner. So those programs are essential, particularly for those who can least afford it."

The program, called the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, or FEECA, allows utilities to pass the costs along to customers.

Gov. Charlie Crist instituted tougher standards in 2009. But in 2014, the utilities sought - and the PSC agreed - to lower those conservation goals.  In the last five years, utilities have successfully persuaded regulators they need to build five new fossil fuel plants.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was one of the officials pushing for an overhaul of FEECA.

In July, she voted against new fossil fuel plant capacity sought by TECO. In the upcoming 2020 legislative session, Fried will propose energy and climate legislation, following her hosting the first state-level summit on climate since 2008.

“Today’s vote is both a huge victory for Floridians and complete validation of what I’ve said all along – FEECA does not work, does not ensure adequate energy efficiency goals for utilities, and needs to be revisited and replaced,” Fried said in a prepared statement.

“FEECA is out-of-date and does not serve the public interest, which we as public servants have vowed to protect. This vote to continue the existing 2014 energy efficiency goals is exactly why I’ve proposed a brand-new dialogue on energy efficiency and conservation, and a brand-new process to deliver the energy efficiency utility standards that our future challenges demand,” she continued.

Here's some information from the PSC's web site:

  • Numeric Conservation goals were last set by the PSC in 2014.  The seven electric utilities subject to FEECA include: Florida Power & Light Company, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Company, Gulf Power Company, Florida Public Utilities Company, Orlando Utilities Company and JEA.   
  • Over the last 38 years, the FEECA utilities’ DSM programs in total have reduced winter peak demand by an estimated 7,285 megawatts (MW) and summer peak demand by an estimated 7,863 MW.
  • Since 1980, DSM programs have reduced Florida’s total annual electric energy consumption by an estimated 10,694 gigawatt hours (GWh) from what it would have been today. Note: 1 GWh is equivalent to 1 million KWh, and on average, a Florida residential customer uses approximately 12,950 KWh each year.
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