At the end of July, Florida's Public Service Commission (PSC) smacked down a large Florida utility company for questionably spending consumer dollars. Good. Looking out for consumers is precisely what the PSC is supposed to do. The Miami Herald reported:
"For almost five years, Florida Power & Light trumpeted green energy, saying customers could help the environment by contributing as little as $9.75 a month to buy renewable power."
"About 39,000 customers signed up. In April, the U.S. Department of Energy called the program, Sunshine Energy, one of the top 10 residential green power programs in the country.
"On Tuesday, angry state regulators killed the program by a unanimous vote after a Public Service Commission staff audit found that about 80 percent of the contributions went for marketing and other administrative expenses." (Miami Herald)
Apparently, FPL had contracted out its so-called "Sunshine Energy" program to a Texas-based contractor called Green Mountain Energy.
Incidentally, I wonder why FPL didn't hire a Florida-based contractor for the job -- not that it would have made much of a difference. Private contractors tend to be expensive, if only because 1) their companies tend to seek profits, and 2) their management tends to like high compensation.
It's a shame that it took four years for the PSC to figure out how inefficient FPL's program was. Apparently, the original plan's details were not subject to appropriate scrutiny back in 2004, when the PSC approved the plan.
Given that PSC staff includes at least one lawyer, I'm not sure how the faulty plan gained PSC approval in the first place.
Two of the current commissioners were not on the PSC when the plan was approved: Nancy Argenziano (a former Florida state senator) and attorney/engineer Nathan Skop.
Commissioner Skop thought FPL's program was 'a lot of marketing hype but very little of substance.' According to the Herald, Skop said:
"About $9 million in customers' money had gone 'into a black hole where there is no transparency. . . . Clearly this is not right....
"'No reasonable person would have contributed to this program knowing that 80 percent'' of their money 'was not going to renewables.''"
Skop makes a good point, yes?
Since they took office, Commissioners Argenziano and Skop have made names for themselves on the PSC as champions of the consumers' interest.
Unfortunately, Skop and Argenziano -- both appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist last year -- are only two members of the five member Commission. The other three members (appointed by former Governor Jeb Bush) seem a bit more focused on protecting the utility industry's interests -- which often clash with Florida consumers' interests.
A few days ago, Florida Today's editorial board commented:
"FPL spokesman Mayco Villafana is still touting the program's success, saying the money was well-spent because almost 40,000 Floridians signed up to pay the extra $9.75 a month and marketing was key to drawing them in.
"That's preposterous -- like gloating about the cleverness of a scam....
And the head-in-the-sand response won't reestablish the trust of concerned citizens who forked over cash in hopes of speeding solar and other renewable energy programs to protect the environment.
"To do that, FPL should acknowledge its error and pay full refunds to all donors who put their trust in a green-Earth gimmick."
Governor Crist did a good thing when appointing Argenziano and Skop. It might be in Florida consumers' best interests for Gov. Crist to start fresh and replace the Bush-appointed PSC members -- as soon as practically possible -- with people who demonstrate strong concern for consumers to the extent that Argenziano and Skop do.