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Not Your Grandma’s Public Service Commission

Saying problems at the Public Service Commission go back farther than recent conflict-of-interest scandals, the House Energy & Utilities Committee this week rolled out its measure to reform the beleaguered panel. As his panel discussed specific legislation for the first time that makes even more drastic changes than a bill already approved by the Senate (SB 1034), Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, said the measure is needed to address modern realities in the utility arena that weren't contemplated when the PSC's structure was designed.

"The energy sector has evolved quite a bit over the last 30 years since the current scheme was established," Precourt told the panel. "It's a much more complicated and sophisticated arena now. It's going to require a more aggressive, sophisticated and structured governance model and that's what we're trying to propose."

Changes in the House version of the PSC bill would include giving the Legislature control over PSC staff by creating a new Office of Regulatory Staff to advise the PSC, but answer to lawmakers.

It was sweeping enough that it left the proposal’s “still being digested” by consumer advocates like the Florida Industrial Power Users Group Jon Moyle, who clamored for changes at the PSC.

The Energy and Utilities Committee also approved legislation to let local governments issue Property Assessed Clean Energy bonds for retrofitting homes or businesses to be more energy efficient. The measure was hailed by House Republicans and appreciated by environmentalists, though the green lobby said it is not a substitute for a more aggressive energy policy they'd like to see.

"They are doing something (on energy)," Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper told the News Service. "But the question is 'are they doing 5 percent when they should be doing 100 percent?'"

House Majority Leader Adam Hasner highlighted the lack of a mandate, drawing a clear contrast between PACE bonds and the renewable energy standard environmentalists have eyed since Gov. Charlie Crist signed a 2007 executive order calling for a 20 percent carbon reduction by the year 2020.

The lack of a mandate, which helped cement support in the House, has been criticized by environmentalists as an insufficient replacement for renewable energy standards.

"This is a no-mandate, non-subsidy, no-cost to government, consumer opt-in program," he said.

Elsewhere, federal water regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bowed to criticism of proposed water pollution standards from state environmental officials and business and farming industries by announcing they would delay implementing some of the most contentious aspects of the proposal and seek a third party review of the science behind it.

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