Saying that it wants more flexibility, the Florida Public Service Commission today unanimously directed its staff to develop new proposed conservation goals for seven utilities by Dec. 1.
Environmental groups had objected to the PSC staff recommendations, which they said in some cases established weaker goals than the state's largest utilities had proposed. The commission, under fire from some lawmakers and environmentalists in recent weeks for appearing to be too cozy with utilities, voted to ask staff develop new goals including possible use of a new test of proposed conservation programs.
"I want that flexibility as a commissioner," said PSC member Nathan Skop. "I don't want my hands tied in adopting something that is embraced by the utilities."
If new goals are adopted by the PSC on Dec. 1, the utilities will be given 90 days to respond. The utilities whose conservation goals are subject to review under state law are Florida Power & Light Co., Florida Public Utilities Co., Gulf Power Co., JEA, the Orlando Utilities Commission, Progress Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co.
The Legislature in 2008 amended the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA) to give the PSC broader authority to maximize energy efficiency in Florida. The PSC says it was directed to evaluate the technical potential of conservation measures including demand-side renewable energy systems.
Commissioner Nancy Argenziano said she agreed with Skop that the proposed goals were too low. But she also said the Legislature may have placed too much emphasis in state law on weighing the cost-effectiveness of such conservation programs.
"It may have to be we let the Legislature know, 'You say get to these conservation goals, but you restricted us,' " she said. "When you have cost-effectiveness as the main restriction or driving factor (in conservation) you may never get there."
A consultant to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which had intervened and opposed the goals recommended by agency staff, applauded the PSC decision to consider new goals.
"They were getting misleading claims from staff that it (conservation) would cost ratepayers more," consultant George Cavros said. "Energy efficiency saves customers money by reducing utilty fuel costs and by diverting new power plant construction."
Florida Power & Light spokesman Mayco Villafana, while stating in an e-mail that his utility has the largest energy efficiency program and lowest bills in the Florida, added: "We look forward to staff's recommendation on this important issue."
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)