Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mile Wide Question: Why did the City of Coral Gables sell out to FPL? … by gimleteye

Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet flipped the switch to new nuclear power plants at Turkey Point in less than two minutes yesterday, after years of contentious battles between communities, civic groups, and opponents of FPL. Although the battle is not over, by surrendering the state to FPL, Gov. Rick Scott significantly harmed the interest of property owners and the concerns of residents within a 1 mile corridor along US 1, one of the most heavily trafficked and populated areas of the state.

Scott didn't utter a word as the vote was put on a tee. He sat on the dais swiveling a smiley face as two of his officers, Adam Putnam and Pam Biondi, said their scripted sentences. Breathtaking.

In earlier testimony, a representative of Homestead -- speaking in support of the new nuclear plants -- noted that Putnam was a friend of agriculture. Message, received. Check. The trade unions, the builders, and the Chambers of Commerce had all spoken their words of support in less than their allotted speaking time. Check.

Citizens fearful of loss of property values, the threat of electromagnetic field impacts to health, the visual blight of turning US 1 into an "industrial wasteland", and massive environmental impacts never had a chance. They didn't have a chance at the Miami-Dade County Commission, seven years ago. They didn't have a chance with the most tone deaf governor in Florida history, Rick Scott, yesterday.

FPL rolled them all.

Where voters and residents had a chance was with the unity of South Florida municipalities opposed to the project. But something happened in the hours leading up to yesterday's vote: the City of Coral Gables broke away from the City of Miami, of South Miami, and Pinecrest. That was a surprise.

Briefly, what happened was this: Florida DEP, representing the Governor, negotiated a condition that on its surface appeared to meet the concerns of the other municipalities -- that the power lines would not be built until the federal NRC approved the project. NRC approval will take at least another year to two years.

But the devil is always in the details, and it appears what the City of Coral Gables negotiated falls far short of protecting citizens from power lines on US 1.

In contrast, City of Miami attorney Victoria Mendez was crystal clear in her testimony to the Governor and Cabinet: there should be an iron-clad requirement that no power lines should be built at all until the NRC approval, and if the NRC disapproves the new nuclear power plants, FPL will be prohibited from building the lines or any part of the infrastructure leading up to construction of new transmission lines.

The condition accepted by the governor of course provides a degree of political cover.

Why did the City of Coral Gables break away, with a patently weak agreement? It is a question that needs to be answered.

In the Miami Herald, a representative from the City of Coral Gables said that he was only trying to do the best for the city, but what he did was sell residents and property owners down the FPL river.

Somehow, somewhere a deal was cut with FPL. If I were a city commissioner in Coral Gables, I would be furious. But maybe the back room deal involved them too.

The problem for people and for their elected representatives is that FPL is powerful. It is not just the money, although the money talks when it comes to electricity production and distribution in ways that drown the public interest.

The problem is incrementalism. FPL has managed to steam roller every government agency and legislature it comes up against. It does so because of "early cost recovery" that pits existing management and the money they earn -- their annual compensation -- against the interest of ratepayers and the public. It is not even close to being an even battle. Early cost recovery, as one observer noted on public radio, shifts the benefits to private shareholders of a public company and socializes the cost burden to the public and ratepayers.

The Miami Dade County Commission in 2007 had a chance to protect the public, when FPL asked for zoning changes critical to building the two new nuclear reactors. Commissioners had the chance to ask hard questions, like the ones that have still not been answered by FPL: what is the cost of new nuclear reactors in comparison to savings from massive new solar investments at the consumer level and incentivized conservation during a service lifetime when demand will dramatically shift.

Environmentalists and their concerns were swept aside like mosquitoes. FPL gets what it wants, more electricity production damn sea level rise and climate change. Voters failed to hold county commissioners accountable.

Yesterday the state of Florida ceded its leverage against FPL. It was depressing to hear the rote bleating of trade unions, again, violating the long term interests of their members.

The municipalities are headed to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, according to the Miami Herald's report; lead by the angered municipalities including the City of Miami, South Miami, and Pinecrest. Although the City of Coral Gables still has a lawsuit pending against FPL, insiders say it is weak and will not protect Coral Gables property owners. There may be an opportunity to revisit the massive, lengthy trial record of an administrative law judge last year, that provided the underpinning for yesterday's decision by the Governor.

In any case -- whether by NRC or appellate court -- yesterday's decision was a major victory for FPL. Within the mile wide corridor of US 1, there are many, many voters that Rick Scott needs in November. We will see how that works out.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps because they knew it was going to be approved and they wanted to get whatever concessions they could out of it.


Gimleteye said...

You mean, a bad deal is better than no deal at all? Not if it undermines a legal challenge whose costs will be born by taxpayers one one side, and ratepayers who are the same taxpayers on the other side.

Anonymous said...

The Herald article included a list of the massive campaign contributions FPL has made to Gov Scott and the cabinet members. Obscene. FPL has been buying this vote for many years. Someone needs to sue.

Gimleteye said...

What really needs to happen, is for FPL shareholders to complain at the annual meeting and for Floridians to protest there.

Anonymous said...

Soon we will be able to protest at the ballot box and get rid of Scott.

Anonymous said...

I think the only way a city can stop the process is by providing their own duct bank for FPL to purchase for a $1. Connection vaults would have to be every few thousand feet. The issue is the heat from the lines.
Please watch.

Anonymous said...

I think this decision may help whoever is running against Fresen. Just paste a picture of Fresen & Scott togeher on the US1 roadways....There could be a slogan contest for EoM down the road (no pun intended).

Anonymous said...

City of Coral Gables sells out fellow cities and figures that if other cities are successful in stopping FPL, Coral Gables benefits anyways. So Coral Gables are piggies, wimps, fearful weasels, freeloaders.

I live in this city, love this city...hate the elected officials, who are useless corporate smoke stack suckers.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound like Gables commissioners were in on the settlement deal:

Anonymous said...

According to The Herald, we will start paying higher FPL bills soon, way before the lines are built. The Govenor and the Cabinet were just repaying the FPL contributions made over the years. What is new? I am a republican, but I will not be voting for anybody, democrat or republican, involved in this decision come November 2014 or November 2016. My Gables' Commissioners and Mayor better be not involved in this decision by the City Beautiful, and sue the heck out of FPL soon. I will be watching and campaigning......

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of yours, but on this issue you're dead wrong. even though it's true that FPL has a criminal amount of power, coral gables put up an incredible and powerful fight. You may be able to say you're pure by not taking a deal and losing. But the outcome is just losing. You're letting the perfect (aka impossible) get in the way of the good.

Anonymous said...

If the power lines had instead been set to go through Kendall, what these folks wanted, we'd see none of this unpleasantness, but a clear scientific explanation of how routes are determined mathematically, and if it's in your backyard too bad, it's for the general benefit.
Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of over-privileged hypocrites.

Anonymous said...

New leadership in Tallahassee is past due...FPL's money does not talk it swears! Here's how to help: Kudos to the City of Miami and the Village of Pinecrest, and may the force be with them in the continuing battle that they are poised to win. And will someone please explain to the unions that are "rote bleating" on behalf of FPL that there are WAY more jobs from solar, efficiency and sustainable biopower than from importing coal, gas, or uranium from out of state? And btw, if we chose distributed efficiency and renewables rather than central fossil or nuclear we wouldn't even need a high-voltage transmission line.

Anonymous said...

You can be assured that the City Attorney of Coral gables would not have negotiated a settlement without the City Commissioner not being a part for the ultimate decision. They will involved. This is common practice in the Gables.

Anonymous said...

Rich hypocrites? What bullshit. People include every business owner on US 1 who wants to maintain the value of their equity. People include every homeowner in the one mile corridor available to FPL. Bury the goddamn cables. Stop acting like nowhere else in the country are high voltage lines buried! And for God's sake, eliminate early cost recovery without which FPL would have to negotiate in good faith with the public.