New PSC to tackle FPL issues

FLORIDA - A newly constituted Public Service Commission plans to weigh seven Florida Power & Light issues, including the utility's energy conservation program and its request to charge customers for the up to $7 million cost of upgrading a coal power plant in Georgia.

It will be the first meeting for Julie Brown, an attorney from Tampa, who was appointed recently along with Eduardo Balbis, a former West Palm Beach city official, by Gov. Charlie Crist. Gov. Rick Scott hasn't announced plans to make his own appointments for the two seats, but he could.

The PSC will discuss seven FPL issues including:

Energy saving programs and discounts - In December 2009, regulators ordered FPL and other major utilities to save dramatically more energy. In response, several utilities including FPL proposed new energy saving programs and rebates, but they did not meet the aggressive new goals set by the PSC. So the commission ordered Progress Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power to propose new goals. The commission was expected to do the same for FPL but had deferred considering the utility's proposal pending a court decision on another issue.

Coal plant upgrade - FPL proposes passing the $5 million to $7 million cost of upgrading a coal plant in Georgia through environmental or fuel fees customers pay on their monthly bills. The PSC staff recommends denying the request. FPL projects the energy-efficient improvements could save customers $240 million in fuel costs in the long-term.

Fortifying the grid - The PSC will also discuss FPL's plans to strengthen its grid against storms. Since Hurricane Wilma struck in 2005, the state's largest utility has spent $623 million to prepare its grid, trimming trees along 47,000 miles of power lines, inspecting a half-million utility poles and upgrading equipment near every major hospital. The improvements have not yet made much of a difference in the number and length of outages – information that is reported to the state's Public Service Commission – and some utility experts say regulators should analyze how customers' money is used for upgrades.

FPL profits - A PSC staff report in October found FPL's profit margin in May and June appeared to exceed the 11 percent maximum allowed by regulators. The staff floated keeping tabs on the profit margin to see if customers might eventually qualify for a refund or credit.


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