Is Efficiency’s Low Hanging Fruit Too Sour for Florida’s Public Service Commission?

I think the Florida PSC's Mission Statement is a good one: To facilitate the efficient provision of safe and reliable utility services at fair prices.

Unfortunately, the Staff of the Florida Public Service Commission (FPSC) brazenly showed neglect for this purposeful statement, and instead elected to dis-serve the citizens of Florida by opting for a more polluting, expensive and volatile energy future.   

Required by law set forth in the Florida Energy Efficiency Conservation Act (FEECA), the FPSC opened the docket to explore and implement a set of ten-year energy efficiency goals for Florida's largest utilities.  The FPSC staff report was released last week (full report can be downloaded here (91 pp, 1.4 MB, .doc)). 

Our read: the efficiency goals recommended by FPSC staff fail to deliver millions of potential dollar savings to Florida consumers. That's too bad because the "low hanging fruit" of energy efficiency opportunities in Florida offer the least cost, non-polluting electric utility services and technologies available today.

What's more, the Commission spent taxpayer dollars to hire a well-respected energy efficiency expert, Richard Spellman (GDS Associates), to offer them guidance on what to do - and then completely disregarded his suggestions on how to save on power and lower electric bills.  Seems strange, no? (Spellman's testimony can be seen here (note it's a large file - 107 pp, 21.7 MB, .doc))

Well it just so happens that on every issue before the Commission, FPSC staff sided with Florida Power & Light (FPL) and the other large power companies. Seems government and big business are on parallel tracks - that worked out well last year during the financial crisis, didn't it?  But whether or not the PSC staff purposefully bent over backwards to side with the utilities, the end result is unfair to Floridians.  

Briefly taking a step back, I think it's important to point out that since early 2008, several of my colleagues at NRDC and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) worked to collaborate with Florida's largest utilities, led by FPL ahead of this FPSC proceeding.  Our plans were to assist in reviewing and make possible recommendations on the energy efficiency potential studies that the utilities were to base their ten-year efficiency program goals upon.  Unfortunately communications broke down early this spring when FPL and associated Florida utilities left us out of the review and comment period on the energy efficiency potential reports.

The Commission's decision deprives Florida residents and businesses of the opportunity to significantly reduce their electric utility bills.  If you live or run a business in Florida, you might have noticed the rise in your electric bills due to increases in fuel costs over the last couple of years.  In fact, FPL even provided this information leaflet to their consumers last year (not coincidentally timed just after the dramatic rise in oil, gas and coal commodity costs that spiked in the summer of 2008). Additionally, the FPSC staff decision also passes up Florida's best opportunity to reduce global warming pollution and move toward a clean-energy economy - all while burdening Florida with millions of dollars in unnecessary energy costs.  The governor recognizes this too - and in fact thinks the Staff recommendation may not even be lawful.

The fact is, every dollar spent on energy efficiency delivers more than two dollars of savings - that's pretty sweet.  It simply defies common sense to deprive Florida residents and businesses of the substantial savings and to burden the State's already struggling economy.  And as John Wilson from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has noted, dozens of states have already embraced energy-efficiency and are now reaping the rewards.

In total, the energy efficiency goals proposed by Richard Spellman - the expert hired by the PSC Staff - and proposed by NRDC and SACE, would save nearly eight times more energy compared to the amount proposed by the utilities that FPSC staff have elected to follow.

Luckily it's not completely over yet - the PSC Commissioners will make a final decision on October 27, 2009.   Hopefully, they'll come to their senses before then.