I work in the
solar industry in Florida. Since the last time I have written furiously at the
keyboard, NextEra Energy (FPL) has done what everyone expected they would do..They wielded the power of
their 28 lobbyists in Tallahassee, and steamrolled an industry that it either
sees as an intolerable threat to its monopoly over the power industry in the
sunshine state, or they have darker motives that are painted bright.
While FPL’s parent company partakes in friendly competition
and goes to other states to develop renewable energy projects, they are not
keen on allowing participation or friendly competition in their own backyard. A
term used in the legislative definition of a “public utility” was narrowly
focused on in a case before the Florida Public Service Commission. In that case, there was a third party–
we’ll call it “A Company”, that
wanted to sell electricity to “B Company”
Normally this is a private business to business transaction that, like
all good transactions, benefit both parties in some way.
This arrangement of “A Company” selling electricity to “B Company”
is a common structure used to finance renewable energy projects, and like any
financing arrangement there are risks, rewards, duties and obligations, and
interest that goes into consideration of the terms. So while “A Company” arranges the capital, construction, and
other operations and management, “B Company” promises to buy the power at a
fixed rate for a variable term – usually 15-30 years through a Power Purchase
Agreement (PPA). Keep in mind that
this is an agreement between two companies.
This works in plenty of places, but not the Sunshine State! The
Florida PSC. holds the position that “A Company” to “B Company” transactions
are to be actively regulated thus, prohibited because “to or for the public”
means that while “A Company” is most certainly not a Public Utility in the
spirit of the legislative definition, “B Company” COULD be one of the many members of “the public”, essentially
barring them from participating in a transaction of this nature in the state of
It gets better, or worse – depending upon your level of
cynicism. Not only does FPL insist
that their sole participation in the industry will ultimately drive costs DOWN,
they’ve created their own fund – on the backs of rate-payers to insure that
your costs go down. BUT YOUR COSTS WON’T GO DOWN, THEY WILL GO UP! This is analogous to what customers of
MA Bell had to put up with before the baby Bells were created. End to end, the infrastructure was
owned by the company. Customers
were prohibited from connecting their own telephone to the MA Bell network, and
MA Bell was kind enough to charge you a rental fee for the telephone they provided.
With Floridians eager to get back to work and save money, on
their cost of living expenses – one being utility bills I implore them to consider urging the
PSC to provide guidance on this issue of creating one’s own energy through
distributed generation or third party ownership (PW ventures vs. Nichols) so
that like the rest of the country, they can participate in fiscally sound
initiatives, stave off the most definite rate hikes, gain energy independence,
and lower their energy bills by creating their own energy supply. Or they can pay FPL $2.42 a month extra
for the next 5 years to double, or even triple bill the consumer – while pre-billing for the construction of assets that they will then re-bill you for using. Oh yeah, and they get all the tax breaks – just like GE has been in the news about recently.
Now lets examine that for a second. FPL, generates the electricity,
distributes the electricity, bills customers for consumption of
electricity, and adds a bunch of
taxes and fees to customer’s bills pertaining to electricity – like the $2.42 a
month, for each customer who uses more than 1200 kilowatt hours.
Then, with the $2.42 a month you’re going to donate them
over the next 5 years, they will construct solar energy plants and sell you the
electricity, complete with fuel cost adjustments (it always gets more
expensive) and margins built in.
It all gets down to this.: if the 4 million FPL ratepayers instead put
their $2.42 a month into a pot of money and then that same ratepayer could draw
money from that pot to pay for their own renewable energy system to produce
power, they would accomplish three
1) immediately lower their energy bills significantly , not
2) become more energy independent rather than be beholden to a large utility’s whims .
3) reduce one’s carbon footprint more than if the utility controlled your carbon footprint.
Its not a matter of “paying for your neighbors system” either. You’re going to pay into it anyway! Its a matter of choice. You can access the funds, and their upside benefits, or trust FPL to not raise your rates, but lower them.
Its your call Florida.