Florida power bills are higher than ever – in part because Florida invests so little in energy efficiency. The Florida Public Service Commission has an opportunity to modernize its policy on helping customers lower energy use and save money on bills. But will it act?George Cavros | February 14, 2023
Update: On March 7th, the Florida Public Service Commission voted (by a 3-2 margin) to adopt its staff’s revisions to the energy efficiency goals setting rule – which effectively maintains the status quo. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other non-utility stakeholders requested a rule hearing. The rule hearing took place on May 2nd, the Commission again voted, by a 3-2 margin, to adopt its staff’s revisions to the rule. Our statement on the outcome is here. Additionally, due to subsequent filings that revised the fuel and storm restoration cost recovery (and approved by the PSC), the bill impacts for FPL and Duke are revised as follows: Duke’s residential customer average bills will increase to $171.83, FPL’s legacy customer bills will increase to $144.38, while NW Florida FPL customers bills will increase to $163.29.
Florida families and businesses are struggling under high power bills – and they’re about to get even higher! The lack of investment in energy efficiency in Florida is in part to blame. Florida ranks near the bottom in helping customers lower energy use and save money on power bills through utility-led efficiency programs. That’s due to 30-year-old practices for setting energy savings goals at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) – the agency that regulates the state’s largest utilities. The PSC commissioners have a unique opportunity to put Florida on a path to lower bills on March 7 – but will they act?
“Outrageous” Power Bills Hurt Florida Families
Florida families have faced soaring power bills over the last 20 months. And the state’s largest power companies have requested even more bill hikes to start April 1. If approved, average residential bills will have increased from between $17 to $42 dollars per month for Florida families since December 2022!
The culprit behind escalating power bills has been higher fossil gas costs (also called natural gas), in combination with Florida utilities’ heavy reliance on fossil gas. Florida Power & Light (FPL), Duke Energy, and Tampa Electric are also asking to recover Hurricane Ian restoration costs as part of their request to raise bills starting in April. Utility customer and organizer, Brooke Ward, expressed the sentiment of many Floridians when she exclaimed, “this is outrageous!,” at a recent protest of current and projected Tampa Electric power bills.
Commissioners have an opportunity to get customers off the high-bill treadmill
While the PSC and utilities don’t control the price of fossil gas, they can insulate customers from spikes in fuel (and other rate impacts) by prioritizing investment in low-cost, low-risk energy efficiency. After all, the cheapest kilowatt hour is the one that’s never used. Meaningful energy efficiency programs not only help hardworking families lower bills, but they help all customers by reducing the amount of costly fuel burned on the utility’s system to generate electricity – a benefit to all. But outdated practices – abandoned by every other state in the nation years ago – are roadblocks to helping Florida families.
Current practices don’t value energy efficiency as a low-cost utility resource and allow the utilities to do the least they can do by depressing energy savings potential and thereby goals. The practices include:
- Relying on a cost-effectiveness test that counts lost revenue to the utility as a “cost” of energy efficiency measures – eliminating common-sense improvements. Isn’t the main purpose of an efficiency improvement to reduce energy use and save money on power bills?
- Another practice allows the utilities to arbitrarily screen out low-cost, high-impact measures that have a payback to the customers of two years or less (this tactic hits struggling families the hardest).
Thankfully, the PSC kicked off a rulemaking docket in 2020 to update its practices – after a number of utilities proposed zero or near zero goals in the 2019 energy efficiency goal-setting proceeding.
Numerous non-utility stakeholders provided comments during workshops about best practices from other states that can serve as templates for Florida to provide more information to the commissioners when setting goals, and more tools to the utilities in proposing goals and programs. The stakeholders included local governments, business voices, faith and community voices, national and regional organizations, the Office of Public Counsel, and customers – from Miami to Pensacola. Thousands of customers have reached out to the commissioners.
Floridians speak out to demand the state use energy smarter to help save energy and lower bills.
Unfortunately, the current draft rule before the PSC – developed by its staff– adopts none of the recommendations. The draft rule will be before the commissioners for consideration at the March 7 Agenda Conference. If adopted, as written, it will effectively cement current energy efficiency practices in place – and lead to unnecessarily higher bills for Florida families and businesses for years to come. The good news is that this will be the first time the commissioners will discuss updating the energy efficiency rule amongst themselves. Spirited debate is sure to ensue.
With the steady stream of bill hikes driving up costs for hardworking families, it’s critical that commissioners not miss this unique opportunity to change business as usual. If it chooses not to move ahead with the wholesale adoption of the best practices identified by non-utility stakeholders, it should, at a minimum, adopt meaningful incremental change that recognizes the value of energy efficiency as a resource and energy savings as a critical tool in reducing bills for struggling families.
After all, the next energy efficiency goal setting is right around the corner in 2024. With families struggling, zero or near-zero results are no longer an option. On March 7, let’s move towards a policy framework that values cutting energy waste, and produces results for Florida’s families, businesses, and the state.