Monday, August 10, 2009

Enviros, utility reps clash over RIM test

Representatives of utilities and environmental groups disagreed today on whether the Florida Public Service Commission now is required to use a new test to analyze utility conservation programs.

The PSC today opened a five-day legal hearing to establish new conservation and energy efficiency goals for seven of the state's largest utilities.

Utilities and environmental groups disagree on whether the Legislature in 2008 directed the PSC to find a replacement for the Rate Impact Measures (RIM) test. Environmentalists have long blamed the test for what they say is a lack of progress on solar energy and conservation because the RIM test can rule out conservation measures that increase costs for all utility customers.

In their opening remarks today, utility representatives said HB 7135, adopted by the Legislature in 2008, did not require the commission to throw out use of the RIM test. Utilities representative Charles Guyton urged the commission to reject arguments from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy against using the test and other traditional measures for setting conservation goals.

"They encourage you to abandon this reasoned and prudent approach and embark on a new radical approach," Guyton said. "This new approach would no longer rely on the utility planning process. This new approach would no longer minimize rate impacts. This new approach would no longer avoid creating DSM (conservation) winners and losers."

But representatives of the environmental and solar industry groups said the Legislature in 2008 wanted utilities to reduce their use of fossil fuels. The representatives said utilities are seeking conservation goals of between zero and 1.5 percent over the next 10 years.

Leon Jacobs, representing NRDC and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said utilities resist stronger conservation goals because lower bills for customers would reduce their profits. They said the Legislature adopted "clear and direct" changes to state law that require a new test.

"Any reasonable legal interpretatation must conclude that the amended statute requires the commission to use a new test to set energy efficiency goals, a test that will allow florida's consumers -- viewed as a whole -- to benefit from the full range of energy efficiency measures," Jacobs said.

The seven utilities whose conservation goals are subject to review under the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act are Florida Power & Light Company, Florida Public Utilities Company, Gulf Power Company, JEA, Orlando Utilities Commission, Progress Energy Florida, and Tampa Electric Company.

(Photo and text copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

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