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Climate Commission Punts on State Energy Standards

After much discussion, the Florida Energy & Climate Commission failed again to act on an every five-year discussion of state energy efficiency standards Wednesday.

Weeks after a July conference call - the Energy and Climate Commission’s most frequent meeting format as its strives to conserve energy - devolved into a debate about the effectiveness of the panel itself, the commission again put off action on the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, which requires a twice a decade review of efficiency standards. In doing so, commissioners said they don’t yet fully understand the complex issues before a decision can be reached.

But unlike last month, on Wednesday time was not on the side of the commission, which is an intervening party in the Florida Public Service Commission's FEECA proceeding. The PSC’s deadline for the Climate Commission to report on the matter is Aug. 28, a full two weeks before the next normally noticed meeting could be held in compliance with the state Sunshine laws.

Lawyers told the Energy & Climate Commission that it had two choices: vote on the post-hearing comments recommended by Executive Director Jeremy Susac or decide its need for further clarification was sufficient enough to declare an emergency meeting, which can be noticed after it is held if the issue at hand proposes a threat to public safety, health or welfare.

In the end, the commission decided on the latter, scheduling an emergency meeting for Aug. 27 that will be noticed in Florida Administrative Weekly.

Prior to the unanimous emergency meeting vote, commissioners had a sometimes touchy conversation with Susac about the amount of time they had to review his 14-page draft of the FEEC’s comments to the PSC and the degree to which they understood it. Commissioner Debra Harrison said panelists only had a weekend to look over the recommendations, which was not enough time to decide if they agreed with them or not.

“I think receiving something on a Friday and having to turn around on a Monday -- I think for some of us that is demanding that we take time from our families,” Harrison said.

Susac agreed with the commissioners that it would be ideal to discuss the energy efficiency standards longer and he did not counsel the commission not to put off Wednesday’s vote. But he did say that he was not sure the compressed timeframe constituted an emergency.

“To declare an emergency because of a date we’ve already known…I don’t know if that would pass muster,” Susac said. “I would rather have a month looking at what happened at the hearing. I think (the Natural Resources Defense Council) had four attorneys working on this, you guys had me. But with our resources and timeframe, the reality is what it is.”

Commissioner JB Clark said the commission’s inaction on his recommended statement to the PSC was not a reflection on its quality. Clark said he wanted more time “so we could study more, ask questions more, just so we get the very best legal work product out.”

“This is not an adversarial thing,” Susac said. “No one of us sitting here on this dais are advocating a particular position. We just want the most comprehensive info we can have. The questions that we have and our reticence to approve this is not about the product you submitted. We do not have the background that you do in the PSC world.”

Susac appeared to accept the commissioners’ perspective, though he asked them not to wait for next Thursday’s special meeting to seek clarifications.

“I respectfully request that you send me questions (before the emergency meeting) or I would hazard that we could be in the same posture only a week later,” he said. “Otherwise I’ll keep taking stabs in dark. I thought I put out very analytical document on extremely short deadline.”

Susac proposed responses to 13 of 16 specific issues being considered by the PSC, including recommending that the regulators only approve efficiency standards that will lower rates and that the panel require power companies to offer free energy audits to customers.

Created by the Legislature in 1980 to guard against weather-related increases in electricity demand common in a hurricane-prone state and reduce overall statewide consumption, FEECA applies to the four major publicly-regulated power companies – Florida Power & Light, Progress Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric – as well as the Florida Public Utilities Company, Orlando Utilities Commission and JEA. Originally all the state’s electric companies were subject to the periodically-reviewed FEECA, though the Legislature later limited it to the largest utilities.

The Climate Commission, which was created in 2008 and is housed within the Executive Office of the Governor, was asked to weigh in on this year’s review by the PSC.

PSC spokesperson Bev DeMello would not comment on the Energy & Climate Commission’s second meeting of inaction on FEECA, telling the News Service only that all parties have an opportunity to submit documents into the record in the PSC’s proceeding and that the commission will likely set the goals Oct. 27.

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