Environmentalists decry pending PSC vote that would gut energy efficiency standards

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On Tuesday, the Florida Public Service Commission is expected to eliminate energy efficiency goals for several electric utilities operating in the state, accepting their contention that it costs more to conserve energy than it does to build more power plants. They’re also expected to decide on whether or not to rollback a solar pilot program, which offers a rebate for customers installing home solar water heating systems.

Today a group of activists held a conference call on the eve of that vote to call on the PSC to require the energy companies be required to make at least 1 percent of their portfolio energy efficient. But they didn’t sound very confident that would happen.

“We know about what’s going to happen,” predicted Scott McIntyre, CEO of Solar Energy Management based in St. Petersburg. “It’s just going to set the state back farther,” he said in reference to national energy efficiency standards. “it’s a setback for the renewable energy industry,” he continued, adding that that his company has proven that it’s cheaper to save energy than it is to produce it. “A combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is the future of Florida today,” he said. “It’s a sad day for Florida.”

Also participating on the phone call was St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell, who also mentioned how more businesses in the community are going solar (like Great Bay Distributors, a major beer manufacturer located in Largo). “Clearly it’s cost effective, and clearly it works,” he said. “I wish Duke Energy would look at changing their business model.” The St. Pete City Council has passed a resolution in support of keeping the tax rebates for solar and energy efficiency goals in place.

Kornell also expressed concerns about how the PSC is currently run, specifically “how the (utility) companies that are given certain specific exemptions that are basically monopolies are trying to manipulate the political system. I think that’s unfair.

Criticism about Duke and the PSC ran wild in the weeks before the midterm election, especially in Pinellas County, where Duke is the sole energy provider. A series of negative incidents over the past couple of years have given the public utility a bruised image in the community, such as billing customers $54 million for nuclear parts that were never produced and changes in meter reading routes that charged some customers an exorbitant amount (Duke later apologized for that and refunded the money).

Before this year there were a handful of Democrats in the Legislature trying to reign in the PSC. Before the 2013 legislative session, St. Petersburg House Democrat Dwight Dudley filed a bill that would would allow voters to pick a pick a commissioner based on one of the five state appeals court districts where they live. Currently, the governor appoints the five commissioners and the Senate confirms them. The commissioners, who earn $130,000 a year, serve four-year terms and can be reappointed when the term expires.

Criticism about the PSC grew so strong before the midterm elections that Clearwater area GOP state Senator Jack Latvala said he wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of having PSC commissioners come out for a vote, though he said there were pros and cons to that proposal.

At that same event, HD65 Republican Representative Chris Sprowls candidate, said if elected, he would reintroduce in the House a version of the Senate bill that Pasco County state Senator John Legg proposed last year regarding the PSC. That bill would create term-limits of 8 years for PSC members, and would require that they come from specific geographic parts of the state in a way that would mirror how the state’s court of appeals are broken up.

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.