- Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed Senate Bill 796 requiring the state's investor-owned utilities to file storm protection plans while also making it easier for them to charge ratepayers to bury power lines.
- The state has been working to strengthen its grid in the wake of large hurricanes that have left millions without power in recent years. The new law requires plans that look 10 years into the future and are updated every three years.
- The law allows a separate charge, outside of a utility's base rates, to pay for undergrounding power lines each year. Opponents of the law, like AARP, say it will raise customer bills.
According to local media, staff of the Florida Public Service Commission and representatives from investor-owned utilities had already met this week, in anticipation of DeSantis signing the bill, to begin developing a process to charge customers for undergrounding lines.
Utilities in the Sunshine State have made significant progress since Hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, when it took more than two weeks to restore power to 95% of Florida Power & Light customers. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, affecting more than 4.4 million customers, it took the utility less than a week to reach that recovery milestone.
Storms have cost Florida utilities hundreds of millions, in recent years.
In April, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co. reached separate settlements with the Florida Office of Public Counsel, agreeing to set aside savings from the 2017 federal tax cut to pay for costs associated with Hurricane Irma in 2017. Duke's settlement included $484 million in costs, while Tampa Electric's included $91 million.
Undergrounding power lines is one way to improve system resilience, but it's expensive. The Florida Industrial Power Users Group opposed the bill as well, and in April told Orlando Weekly it creates a "one-way financial street" outside of base rates, leading to higher bills.
According to a summary of the legislation, annual transmission and distribution storm protection plan costs "may not include costs recovered through the public utility's base rates and must be allocated to customer classes pursuant to the rate design most recently approved by the commission."
The law requires the Florida Public Service Commission to adopt implementation rules as soon as possible, but no later than October 31.