Audubon blocked from power plant case


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state Public Service Commission this week rejected an effort by the Florida Audubon Society to intervene in a case about Florida Power & Light's proposal to buy and, ultimately, shut down a coal-fired power plant in Jacksonville.

The environmental group took the somewhat-unusual step July 1 of seeking to formally intervene in the case, which is scheduled for a hearing next week before the Public Service Commission. In its petition, Florida Audubon pointed to environmental benefits if the Cedar Bay power plant is shut down.

"Continued operation of the Cedar Bay facility for a significant period of time is likely to result in environmental harm that affects FAS (Florida Audubon Society) and its members; conversely, the early retirement of the Cedar Bay facility, which is expected to occur if the PSC approves FPL's petition, will result in significant environmental benefits that are important to FAS and its members, such as lower carbon dioxide emissions and less water use,'' the petition said.

But Public Service Commission member Jimmy Patronis, who is the panel's pre-hearing officer in the case, issued an order Monday turning down the group's request to intervene. Patronis wrote that the issues involved in the case are "economic in nature and are designed to address the impact FPL's proposal would have on its customers' rates."

In doing so, Patronis sided with the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which includes major electricity users and has objected to the FPL purchase proposal and the Audubon Society's intervention. FPL contends that the $520.5 million deal would lead to eventual savings for customers.

FPL entered into a long-term contract in 1988 to purchase power from the plant, but the utility argues it can now generate electricity at a lower cost than what the contract requires it to pay. As a result, it would buy and shut down the plant at the end of 2016. But in a pre-hearing statement filed with regulators, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group described the $520.5 million cost as an "inflated, overstated sum."