- A Florida Senate committee unanimously voted to advance two bills supported by Florida Power & Light, both of which would raise customer bills, the Miami Herald reports.
- Senate Bill 1238 would allow FPL to continue charging customers for gas drilling activities. Last year, the state's Supreme Court forced the utility to stop collecting on that investment, ruling it was outside an electric utility's mission.
- The second proposal, Senate Bill 1048, would address the potential undergrounding of transmission lines near Miami, giving only the state's Public Service Commission authority to order that investment.
The Miami Herald reports both bills were passed without debate, despite public opposition to the measures in the room from consumer and advocate groups. AARP lobbyist Jack McRay told the paper, "from our perspective, that's like a tax increase."
The Herald also notes that Sen. Frank Artiles (R), who chairs the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee which just passed the measures, has close ties with FPL lobbyists.
In 2014, the Florida PSC allowed FPL to invest $191 million in a joint venture with PetroQuest Energy to drill for gas in Oklahoma's Woodford Shale region. Regulators subsequently allowed the utility to boost that investment up to $500 million a year in a bid to lock in low gas prices and keep rates stable.
But the investments turned sour, at least initially, losing money and reducing the lifetime benefit back to ratepayers. Challenged, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 last year that the PSC overstepped its authority in allowing the gas investments.
In a decision written by Justice Ricky Polson, the court noted "the recovery as fuel costs paid by FPL’s customers in its utility rates were considered by the PSC to be a long-term physical hedge...[t]reating these activities as a hedge requires FPL’s end-user consumers to guarantee the capital investment and operations of a speculative oil and gas venture without the Florida Legislature’s authority."
Now, the utility is asking legislators to give their permission to allow it to resume recovery.
The second measure addresses about 90 miles of transmission line associated with new nuclear reactors FPL wants to install at its Turkey Point facility. In 2014, Florida Gov. Rick Scott approved the project, but opponents took their case to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Miami, which ruled the state should have required the power lines be buried due to ecological concerns.
SB 1048 would give only the PSC the authority to force FPL to bury the lines. The two bills will now head to Florida Senate's Rules Committee.