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FPL rate fight goes back to the state Supreme Court

A battle about a 2021 settlement that increased base electric rates for Florida Power & Light has returned to the state Supreme Court.

Lawyers for a coalition of groups last week filed a notice that is an initial step in appealing a March order by the Florida Public Service Commission that renewed approval of the sprawling settlement.

The notice, filed by lawyers from the Earthjustice legal organization on behalf of the groups Florida Rising, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and the League of United Latin American Citizens of Florida, is the latest twist in a years-long battle.

The coalition and another organization, Floridians Against Increased Rates, filed Supreme Court challenges after the Public Service Commission approved the settlement in 2021. In a somewhat unusual move, the Supreme Court last year sent the case back to the commission because justices said the regulatory panel had not shown why the settlement “is in the public interest and results in rates that are fair, just and reasonable.”

The commission responded in March by issuing a more extensive order backing the settlement, justifying issues ranging from how much profit FPL can earn to paying for solar-energy projects.

READ MORE: Florida ranked 8th for highest electric bills across the U.S. in 2022, according to a study

The notice of appeal filed this week, as is common, does not detail issues the opponents will raise at the Supreme Court. But as an example of issues that have been at play, the groups’ lawyers in February unsuccessfully sought an evidentiary hearing at the Public Service Commission about FPL’s performance in meeting energy-efficiency goals under a state law known as the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act.

The motion for a hearing cited arguments the groups had made earlier about issues such as the size of the rate increases included in the settlement. But it also argued that “FPL’s failure to fulfill its FEECA (Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act) goals — placing FPL far below much smaller utilities in energy savings — also weighs against approval of the settlement.”

FPL reached the four-year settlement with the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues, and other parties including the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Base-rate issues are closely watched, as they involve billions of dollars, make up large portions of customers’ monthly bills, and help determine utilities’ profitability.

After approval by the commission, the FPL settlement led to a $692 million rate increase in January 2022 and another $560 million hike in 2023. The wide-ranging settlement also included such things as allowing increases in 2024 and 2025 to pay for solar-energy projects. FPL this week filed a proposal at the Public Service Commission that seeks a go-ahead for 12 new solar-energy facilities that would start operating in 2025 under the settlement.

In its revamped order last month, the commission concluded that the settlement was in the public interest.

“The preponderance of the evidence in this record demonstrates that the 2021 settlement agreement supports a multi-year rate plan, which in turn benefits customers and serves the public interest by providing long-term stability and predictability with respect to base rates,” the order said. “FPL is bringing an appreciable amount of renewable energy online … and has proposed additional programs to promote the development of future renewable energy resources consistent with legislative direction. FPL has built a system that consistently ranks near the top nationally for reliability. FPL residential customer rates remain among the lowest in the state and nation.”

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