“Judge rebuffs challenge to underground power lines plan”

“Judge rebuffs challenge to underground power lines plan”

Photo: SSMG

“A judge has rejected challenges to rules pertaining to underground power line projects, which critics say could ultimately result in increased bills for Florida Power & Light Co. and other electric company customers.

The Public Counsel and the Florida Industrial Power Users, which represents big power users, had challenged a utility commission’s decision to provide less upfront detail for projects and costs than the law specifies.

In a 52-page document, Administrative Law Judge James Peterson III dismissed the Public Counsel’s arguments that the proposed rules issued by the Florida Public Service Commission don’t adequately protect consumers…

Peterson said in his final ruling that the proposed rules state that a utility can’t seek costs it already has recovered through base rates.

‘There is nothing confusing about the language used in the proposed rule — it forbids double recovery,’ Peterson wrote.”

— Marcia Heroux Pounds, South Florida Sun Sentinel

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“Destin considers hiding power lines underground”

“Destin considers hiding power lines underground”

Photo: Gulf Power

“The city has many potential ways to pay for placing overhead electrical lines and other utility lines within Destin underground, staff told the City Council on Monday.

While the council discussed the funding options, it made no concrete decisions.

The undergrounding of utility lines along U.S. Highway 98 and throughout the city is a project that Destin officials say would beautify the city and lead to fewer storm-caused power outages.

Currently, the city is in the final phase of negotiating a new franchise agreement with Gulf Power for electricity services, according to Destin Finance Director Bragg Farmer. Items being negotiated include a price to underground the company’s power lines, as well as other utility lines attached to power poles, in Destin.

While placing all the lines underground will take at least two decades, city officials for now are focused on exploring possible funding sources to pay for the placements during the next 10 years or so. Funding must be identified and secured before issuing a revenue note/bond that would pay for the project upfront, according to Farmer…”

— Tony Judnich, The Destin Log

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Undergrounding: “Our power lines will be buried for storm safety. It could cost FPL up to $35 billion.

“Florida Power and Light Co. and other electric utilities in the state now can proceed with burying lines in your neighborhood, but it’s going to take at least 30 years to accomplish, and the price tag for customers is still a mystery.

The state Legislature approved a storm-protection bill last spring, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that allows FPL and other electric utilities to charge customers for putting neighborhood power lines underground.

In a meeting with the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board on Wednesday, FPL CEO and president Eric Silagy finally put a figure on burying neighborhood lines for his customers: $25 billion to $35 billion…

In a recent session to create rules for the program, some commissioners were concerned about whether they’ll have enough information to set electric rates, and how they’ll be able to tell whether expenses being billed under ‘storm-protection recovery’are different from those being charged through base rates — a mandate of the law.

FPL proposed utilities’ providing project and cost detail in only the first year of the three years of data requested by lawmakers, with FPL lawyer Ken Rubin telling commissioners projects could change year-to-year due to storms and reliability data, change-out of equipment, electrical load changes and customers’ acceptance of installing lines underground in a neighborhood.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel told commissioners they should get as much detail as possible from the utilities upfront. ‘There’s so much money involved that I think the additional effort and cost to get the details is worth it and overrides any customer confusion,’he said.

Jon Moyle, who represents the Florida Industrial Power Users Group — big-energy users — said ‘both the Legislature and customers want clarity and a range of certainty about the rate impacts of the storm hardening plans.”

Mark Futrell, deputy executive director of the PSC staff, said in the rule-making session that he sees potential litigation if project details and expenses are not provided upfront.

But in the end, commissioners opted to give FPL and other utilities flexibility it asked for in detailing projects and costs.

Commissioner Julie Brown, responding to Futrell’s concerns, said, ‘I do feel there are plentiful checks and balances here in the public interest. … We’re going to have so much opportunity to review the projects and the costs associated. We’re going to get annual reports.” The proposed rules will advance for approval if the Public Service Commission receives no request for a public hearing by Oct. 28.”

— Marcia Heroux Pounds, South Florida Sun Sentinel
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Undergrounding: “Consumer watchdog requests public hearing on underground power line rules over costs”

Undergrounding: “Consumer watchdog requests public hearing on underground power line rules over costs”

Photo: SSMG
“State regulators speedily approved underground utility project rules for Florida Power & Light Co. and other electric utilities on Oct. 3. But not so fast, says the Florida Office of Public Counsel, which filed a petition Friday requesting a public hearing on the rules. A new law signed by Gov. DeSantis in July allows the state utilities to recover expenses for burying power lines. The rules would oversee a multi-decade statewide project to bury neighborhood power lines underground.

The cost to FPL and other electric utility customers in the state is unknown.

But Public Counsel J.R. Kelly said his office wants to make sure there’s no ‘double recovery’of expenses for underground projects through both a special recovery process created by the law and base rates. He also wants to make sure the money utilities spend on burying power lines is ‘prudent and reasonable.’

The consumer watchdog says in the petition that proposed rules approved by the Florida Public Service Commission on Oct. 3 go further than the new state law allows, and asks the rules be revised.

‘These rules … exceed the statutory authority granted by the Legislature …or are otherwise contrary to the state’s interests,’the Office of Public Counsel says in its petition.

…Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel told commissioners it’s important they get as much detail as possible from the utilities upfront about their undergrounding plans and costs.

‘There’s so much money involved that I think the additional effort and cost to get the details is worth it and overrides any customer confusion,’Rehwinkel said.

FPL has 71,000 miles of neighborhood lines in its service territory, which is about half the state, and it has buried about 26,000 or 38 percent. That leaves about 43,000 lines to bury, according to FPL’s CEO.”

— Marcia Heroux Pounds, South Florida Sun Sentinel
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Undergrounding: “Florida could soon bury more power lines. Customers might pick up the cost.”

Undergrounding: “Florida could soon bury more power lines. Customers might pick up the cost.”

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

“Supporters say the proposals would keep more homes and businesses out of the dark when future hurricanes inevitably wreak havoc on the state. The legislation may result in higher bills for customers, whether power lines go underground in their neighborhoods or not…”


House Bill 797 status: “Placed on Special Order Calendar, 04/26/19” Senate Bill 796 status: “CS/CS/CS by Appropriations read 1st time -SJ 353”

— Samantha J. Gross,Tampa Bay Times

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House Bill 797
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“Are underground power lines really the solution to power outages in South Florida?”

“Are underground power lines really the solution to power outages in South Florida?”

Photo: Al Diaz, Miami Herald

“Hurricane Irma was a game-changer for South Florida. Cities are preparing for hurricane season differently now. And the region’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, is pushing for a method that could turn the lights back on faster after a storm…

Last month, FPL launched a three-year pilot program to put more power lines underground in more neighborhoods. According to FPL, 40 percent of its lines are already under the ground.

After the 2005 double-hitter of Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, FPL invested nearly $3 billion to harden its electrical grid, to try to make it more resilient against the storms of the future.

Underground power lines are one of several hardening techniques that help make the grid more storm-resilient. Others include managing trees near electrical infrastructure; replacing wooden poles with concrete or steel ones; and reinforcing utility poles with guy wires (tensioned cables) for more stability.

FPL, which maintains a hybrid system of above-ground and underground lines, says it’s planning to harden all the power lines along major thoroughfares by 2024.

At the May PSC meeting, Olnick said underground power lines performed 80 percent better than overhead ones during Hurricane Irma – which means they were that much less likely to lose power.

‘Which was expected,’ he said.

If Irma had been a water storm, underground power lines would have faced other challenges, namely severe flooding and storm surge…

Buried power lines are kept inside PVC pipes that are made to be watertight. But if water manages to enter the pipes, then the outages can take longer to remedy because accessing buried infrastructure takes more time. (The U.S. Department of Energy estimates repairing ‘widespread below-ground failures an take several weeks.)

…South Florida’s geology compounds the water tradeoff. The pipes are sitting atop a bedrock of porous limestone – essentially a big sponge.

The ground material also varies with geography. Varela, the Miami Springs contractor, says he has hit sandy soil there while Coral Gables is known for its coral rock…

FPL says it’s trying to counter storm flooding. According to Olnick, the company is using flood monitors at substations to keep track of existing water. (During Irma, two substations in FPL’s 35-county territory were de-energized, or powered down, because of flooding.)

In Downtown Miami, the company is experimenting with sub-aqueous power lines that can be submerged in water, according to FPL’s Bryan Olnick.”

— Alexander Gonzalez & Caitie Switalski, WLRN Miami, South Florida
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