Climate Commission Weighs In On Energy Standards
After two energetic false starts, the Florida Energy & Climate Commission agreed Thursday on recommendations for the Public Service Commission’s periodic review of the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.
The commission had taken up the issue in July and last week, but put off action each time because commission members said they did not fully understand the issue. But the deadline for a report to the PSC on the law is Friday, so Thursday’s emergency meeting was scheduled and the panel had little choice but to act if it wished to weighed in on FEECA this year.
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. The Energy & Climate Commission, which was not created until 2008, was asked to participate in this year’s review.
Commission executive director Jeremy Susac, who drafted the commission’s comments to the PSC, said he talked last week and over the weekend with members of the panel who had questions about the process and the specifics of the recommendation. Commissioners had complained that they did not have enough time to review his 14-page draft of the comments to the PSC.
Knowing it was pressed for time, the commission dug into and discussed at length very technical aspects of the efficiency standards Thursday. Chief among them was whether to recommend a more cautious Enhanced - Rate Impact Measure (E-RIM) test, which focuses on the price of electricity by measuring savings from avoided supply usages, but ignores related benefits to society at large, or an aggressive Enhanced Total Resource Cost (E-TRC) test, which weighs efficiency more comprehensively.
Susac recommended the E-RIM test, saying that the panel was bound to recommend the most inexpensive option it could. But Commissioners Debra Harrison and Howell Ferguson argued for the E-TRC test, saying that the panel had enough latitude to consider more than cost.
“I don’t believe the legislative language and what we have been given are as limited as we have been led to believe,” Harrison said in seeking unsuccessfully to amend Susac’s proposed recommendations. Harrison said Florida was currently 28th in the country in energy efficiency, “but I’d rather see Florida in the top 10.”
Ferguson agreed, saying the FEECA review gave the Energy & Climate Commission an opportunity to light a fire under the major Florida power companies, which he said could use the extra encouragement.
“It seems to me that Florida utilities are not doing a very good job on energy efficiency,” he said. “I base that on savings based as a percentage of sales. Essentially the main Florida utilities range from 107 to 177th. I think we start out with the proposition that the utilities need to do more.”
In his proposed recommendation, Susac acknowledged the E-TRC test would likely cause greater efficiency, agreeing with a similar finding from the Natural Resource Defense Council. But he argued the E-RIM test provided a better balance between conserving energy and consumers’ wallets.
The commission agrees with the environmental group that the “E-TRC will result in more efficiency and also agrees that some bills will go down,” Susac’s proposed comments to the PSC said. “However, the FECC does not agree that the bills of the entire general body of ratepayers will decrease; rather, the FECC believes that a portion of the bills will decrease while the overall general body of ratepayers’ bill will increase.”
Commissioner Christian Poindexter, a former Maryland utility executive, strongly disagreed with Harrison and Ferguson’s contention that the stronger efficiency test was necessary because the utilities were not conserving enough.
“I’m not sure who prepared that analysis, it’s been known … that Florida Power & Light is really tops in demand side management,” he said. “No matter what’s reducing the demand, it’s saving dollars.”
Commissioner Kathy Baughman McLeod, who has expressed frustration in the commission’s inability to meet in person and its inaction, said the FEECA recommendations were “the biggest decision and most serious work this commission has done heretofore.” McLeod said she was sympathetic to Harrison and Ferguson’s arguments, but wanted to defer to the panel’s staff’s expertise.
“As a commissioner, I underestimated this complexity of this issue,” McLeod said. “I would not venture to say I know more than (Susac) or any other commissioner, but I’m going to support his recommendation in fairness to process that we established.”
Commission chairman James Murley agreed with McLeod, staying the still-struggling state economy needed to be a large consideration in the panel’s recommendation.
“We want to do everything can to increase energy efficiency,” Murley said. “The world has changed just in the short time we as a commission have been in operation. It’s an incredibly different world out there.”
The commission voted 6-2 in favor of Susac’s E-RIM recommendation, with Harrison and Ferguson voting no.
Gov. Charlie Crist's deputy chief of staff, Kathy Mears, joined the climate commission call and acknowledged the role meeting via telephone had played in the commission’s longer-than-expected deliberations. The climate commission is housed within the Executive Office of the Governor.
“It’s been a challenging experience, and yet so important to the process,” Mears said. “I think we’ve led by example on energy conservation. Our efforts to telecommunicate, although it’s been very challenging as many of you have pointed out; we have done our part to conserve both state dollars and energy as we have called in during this process.”
Thursday’s meeting was the Energy & Climate Commission’s sixth consecutive conference call, but Murley said the panel would meet in person next month during the state university system’s Energy Systems Consortium at the University of South Florida in Tampa Sept. 29-30.
The PSC will likely set the new energy efficiency goals Oct. 27.