Saturday, December 05, 2015

Will the anti-citizen record of FPL disrupt a planned merger with Hawaii Electric? ... by gimleteye

Monopolistic utilities like FPL are run like kingdoms. To be sure, it is complex -- with billions of dollars of hard assets at play -- to provide uninterrupted, reasonably priced electricity to millions of consumers. In the case of FPL, it is also transparently clear that the utility will do whatever is within its legal rights to maintain its control over the energy future of its market base. Today, several thousand miles away from Florida, FPL is trying to persuade a state legislature in Hawaii to approve a planned merger between Hawaii Electric and the FPL holding company, NextEra Energy, Inc. based in Juno.

Although FPL spends a considerable amount of money in South Florida to polish its public image, in fact its tactics are ham-handed.

For example, in the 2014 local election cycle, through a political committee run by a prominent Miami lobbyist for which it was sole contributor, the company wanted to oust its fiercest critic -- a popular South Miami mayor and science professor at a local university, Phil Stoddard. The political committee spread a false allegation of sexual abuse against him.

At the same time, FPL has angered citizens. Its plans for new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point include new high-voltage overhead power lines through heavily populated areas in Miami. In its effort to site those lines, company lobbyists waged a behind-closed-doors campaign to divide and conquer local municipal governments, cutting side deals to soften opposition who -- representing taxpayers -- wanted the company bury its lines. The City of Miami and South Miami sued FPL.

The planned power lines also have to traverse through one of America's most threatened national parks. FPL's right-of-way through Everglades National Park was dormant for decades, and of no practical value, until the company decided to put its new transmission lines smack dab in the middle of where environmentalists have spent decades trying to push more clean, fresh water to rehydrate the dying River of Grass. Although the Miami Herald reported, today, that the company has settled the matter with the National Park Service, the needless struggle has consumed scarce resources of environmental groups at a ferocious rate.

Early cost recovery for the new planned nukes provide unlimited funds for FPL to hire consultants, lobbyists and attorneys to promote its plan, sending cash-strapped environmental groups on extraordinarily difficult, complex journeys through the legal system to obtain a measure of fairness and equity. In 2014, the company obtained permission from Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet to site the new reactors. A public hearing in the state capitol was an outrageous display of force. Opposition -- which had unsuccessfully struggled in a lazy state court clearly in FPL's corner -- was never given the chance to offer top elected officials legitimate arguments against the new nukes based on solid economic facts. Permission by the state gives FPL the right to continue planning and even to start infrastructure on new power lines, despite the fact that federally required environmental planning and licensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission faces significant delays.

The early cost recovery that benefits FPL and other regulated utilities in Florida puts hundreds of millions of dollars per year in the hands of top executives who have little incentive to stray from tried and true business models. Thanks to liberal campaign contributions to the state legislature and a public service commission, appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature, energy policy in Florida literally grows from the marketing department of FPL. For electric utilities, wars of attrition are easy to wage when ratepayers are funding them reliably, every month through their electric bill.

Despite the fact that Florida calls itself "The Sunshine State", monopolistic practices of the big utilities including FPL have obstructed consumer adoption of solar power. Today FPL is a major investor in a sham ballot initiative whose purpose is to block a citizens' referendum to amend the Florida constitution in order to facilitate the clear benefits from solar technologies and energy use. Pitting its millions against twenty and one hundred dollar contributions from citizens to do what's right for our energy future should also give Hawaii legislators reason to hit the pause button.

Recently, two Florida environmental groups praised FPL in an OPED distributed in Hawaii, but both groups skipped past the most damning fact against the company's burnished reputation in Florida: its reckless pollution of a drinking water aquifer as a consequence of a failed cooling canal system for two existing nuclear reactors in south Florida. In the 1970s, FPL agreed to monitor its two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point and ensure that a 168 mile long radiator for very hot, super saline water would not impact nearby wetlands and adjacent waters of Biscayne National Park.

Time after time, the utility entered into legally binding agreements with the state that it would not or could not keep and which the state would not enforce. Today, the presence of tritium -- a radioactive marker -- and salt water intrusion measurements leave tracks how FPL has not been a good corporate citizen. Earlier this year, FPL sought emergency permission from the state to inject one hundred million gallons per day of fresh water sucked from underground to try to stem its pollution. As in the case of a fair solar power future in Florida, or a clean, safe drinking water aquifer in Homestead, or buried power lines instead of over-head lines that may affect public health or property values in Coral Gables and other south Florida municipalities, the competition for fresh water to protect natural resources, or how the playing field tilts to favor extraordinarily wealthy and powerful special interests; it doesn't matter what citizens want. FPL got its way in a way that protects its prerogatives, shareholder value and executive compensation.

1 comment:

Geniusofdespair said...

Millions of homes and businesses who are customers of Florida Power & Light will be financing as much as $500 million a year in unregulated natural gas fracking projects conducted by the state’s largest utility, state regulators decided Thursday.

The Florida Public Service Commission sided with FPL and against consumer advocates and unanimously approved guidelines that give the company carte blanche approval to charge its customers for natural gas fracking and “wildcatting” activities without oversight from regulators for the next five years.

The decision gives the state largest utility company unprecedented permission to use ratepayer dollars to finance an energy exploration and production business. According to an analysis by the PSC’s staff, FPL will be the first utility in the nation to be allowed to use ratepayer money for such an “non-regulated risk.”

The decision also gives the company, a regulated monopoly, a guaranteed new source of revenue that will allow it to increase its rate base for the next several years in the face of increasing competition from solar and other alternative energy sources.

Read more here:
This is how they operate, from the Miami Herald.