FPL asks for base rate hike before rate freeze deal expires

SB16FPLBILL.jpgFlorida Power Light told regulators this week it wants to raise base rates by nearly $21 million – a year before its agreement to freeze them expires.

The move doesn’t violate the agreement, but it’s sure to come as a surprise to some consumers.

The proposed increase would cost an additional 23 cents a month starting in January for residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power. That would be on top of a $2.49 estimated increase in January for fuel and other costs.

Regulators will weigh the $2.49 proposed increase in November. It’s unclear when they would consider the new proposal.

Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, the state’s utility consumer advocate who helped hammer out a deal to freeze rates until 2013, said a provision of the agreement allows for the rate hike for some new plants when they start running.

State law allows utilities to start charging customers to operate and maintain nuclear power projects once they’re placed in service.

FPL, the state’s largest electrical utility, has proposed expanding by 15 percent two existing reactors at its Turkey Point plant near Miami and expanding by 12 percent two generators in St. Lucie County.

The expansions, which await approval from federal regulators, are expected to be completed in 2013, but FPL is asking to recoup the cost of “major pieces of equipment’ related to the upgrades that will start running this year, FPL Spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said in an email.

“For example, we are planning an upgraded crane into service to facilitate heavy lifts necessary for turbine generator work” at Turkey Point, she wrote. “At our St. Lucie site, examples include the installations of a main generator rotor; a larger, more efficient low-pressure turbine rotor (which accommodates increased steam flow); and a new 700,000-lb. transformer.”

The utility is also upgrading equipment related to cooling systems to handle the increased output that the uprate project will deliver.

“The project is enhancing overall system reliability, diversifying our fuel mix with a zero-emissions energy source and saving our customers billions on fossil fuel costs,” Anderson wrote. “The project is already beginning to deliver benefits to customers. Our St. Lucie plant began generating roughly 29 new megawatts in May, which translated into $3 million in fossil fuel cost savings for customers in just the first 100 days of operation.”

FPL expects approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the Turkey Point expansions in December and approval for the two St. Lucie upgrades in the first and second quarters of next year, said Mike Waldron, a utility spokesman.

The expansion projects, estimated to cost $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion, would produce enough energy to power about 271,000 more homes, according to FPL’s request to the PSC. The utility projects they’ll save customers $4.8 billion in fuel costs over the life of the projects and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 million tons.

Image: An FPL electric bill.

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