Critics aim to reshape utilities rule they say negates energy-saving goals, keeps bills high

The FL Public Service Commission's draft rule is under fire from groups who want power companies to set higher goals for energy efficiency . Credit: FL PSC

A draft rule on how Florida power companies set their energy-savings goals is “stunningly short-sighted” and “ridiculous” because it does not promote energy efficiency that would lower customers’ power bills and reduce pollution, say critics who hope to reshape the rule.

Released this week by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), the draft rule was condemned by public-interest and environmental organizations that closely monitor the PSC and the powerful, investor-owned utilities it regulates.

“Among other actions, the groups plan to address roadblocks to capturing more energy savings for Floridians, especially low-income families,” the coalition of critics said in announcing their opposition to the draft of the rule.

The PSC will hear public comments on the draft rule at a workshop scheduled for Jan. 14. The PSC regulates Florida Power & Light Co., Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power Co., and Florida Public Utilities Co.

In its announcement, the coalition says the PSC’s draft rule would perpetuate outmoded practices that have set Florida “almost dead last in state rankings for capturing energy savings” through efficiency measures.

The effect, the critics say, is unnecessarily high utility bills that make life more difficult for low-income households – especially during the pandemic when hundreds of thousands of Floridians are jobless and protective benefits such unemployment insurance and a moratorium on evictions are set to expire in weeks. Utility disconnections, suspended for several months due to COVID-19, have resumed.

Inefficient use of electricity also contributes needlessly to pollution and climate change, they said in the joint announcement.

“After nearly 30 years, Florida has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize its energy efficiency rules,” said Forest Bradley-Wright, energy efficiency director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).

“It is ridiculous for Florida’s utility regulators to propose energy efficiency standards that are three decades old,” said Earthjustice attorney Bradley Marshall. “We live in a state that is already feeling the effects of flooding from rising seas and global warming. We should be a leader in energy efficiency goals.”

SACE is a multi-state nonprofit advocacy group that promotes energy efficiency and non-polluting energy sources. Earthjustice is a nonprofit environmental law organization. Joining them in opposition to the draft rule are  the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (ECOSWF), a nonprofit coalition of groups that work to conserve natural resources in southwest Florida, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Florida,  a volunteer-based nonprofit that advocates for Latino communities nationwide.

“We need strong, modern energy efficiency standards in Florida, not more excuses for utilities to do even less for customers,” said David Sinclair, chair of environment and climate issues with LULAC Florida.

LULAC and Earthjustice also opposed the PSC by demanding a moratorium on utility shutoffs due to non-payment related to COVID-19. The PSC did not grant a moratorium and disconnections, after a hiatus, have resumed.