TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — State regulators Tuesday unanimously approved Florida Power & Light’s proposal to build a nearly $1.2 billion power plant in Broward County, saying it is the best way to meet the utility’s future needs.

The project would replace four idled, 1960s-era generating units at the Port Everglades complex and would start cranking out electricity in 2016.

FPL argued that the new plant, primarily fueled by natural gas, would be more efficient and would help provide power to the utility’s huge South Florida customer base.

The state Public Service Commission approved what is known as a “determination of need,” a key initial step for FPL to move forward with the project.

“We have a need, and we have other options that were looked at that were not cost effective,” Commissioner Eduardo Balbis said.

The 1,277-megawatt project faced opposition, however, from the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which represents major commercial customers in utility cases. The group, in a document filed with the PSC, said the utility was trying to “inflate a small projected need into a mammoth project,” and that FPL could buy enough electricity elsewhere to meet demands.

“The commission should deny FPL’s petition and direct FPL to explore diligently more cost-effective purchase power options, or downsize the project so that ratepayers are sheltered from nearly $1.2 billion in costs that will benefit FPL shareholders, not retail ratepayers,” the group said in the filing.

But Balbis and commission staff said FPL in the coming years faces the expiration of agreements to buy power from the Georgia-based Southern Company and JEA, the municipal utility in Jacksonville. They said it would not be cost-effective to extend those contracts.

“I am comfortable that this project represents benefits to the grid and to consumers,” Commissioner Lisa Edgar said.

FPL has said the project would be more than $400 million cheaper than alternatives such as building a plant on another site or upgrading the existing Port Everglades facilities. Also, the company argues new technology at the plant would limit air emissions and help hold down fuel costs, which are a major part of customers’ bills.

Typically, customers pay for new power plants through base rates, after the projects start operating. FPL also is working on new plants at Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach.

“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”



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