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Justices reject challenge in FPL power plant deal

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(Paul Courson/CNN)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to the approval of a deal in which Florida Power & Light purchased a coal-fired power plant in Jacksonville with the intention of shutting it down.

The Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which includes large energy users, challenged an order by the state Public Service Commission that approved the FPL deal. The group commonly known as FIPUG argued that it was improperly prevented from sequestering the utility's witnesses during a Public Service Commission hearing.

As a result, FIPUG asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Public Service Commission's order giving approval to the deal. But the Supreme Court, in a 10-page opinion, ruled that the Public Service Commission had the legal discretion to deny the request for sequestering witnesses.

"We find that the (Public Service) Commission has discretion on whether to apply the Florida Evidence Code and, in particular, the rule of sequestration to its proceedings," said the opinion, written by Justice Peggy Quince and joined fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, justices Barbara Pariente, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston and Senior Justice James E.C. Perry.

Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the result but did not sign on to Quince's opinion.

The case stemmed from a plan by FPL to pay $520.5 million to buy the coal-fired Cedar Bay Generating Station and later shut it down. FPL had been locked into a long-term contract to buy electricity from the plant and said it could generate power elsewhere at a lower cost. It said the deal and closure of the plant ultimately would save $70 million and prevent nearly 1 million tons of carbon emissions each year.

FIPUG, which frequently becomes involved in utility cases, objected to the proposal because it argued the utility was paying too much for the plant. FPL announced last month that it was going ahead with shuttering the plant.