The Florida Public Service Commission on Tuesday rejected proposed energy conservation goals that environmentalists had called too weak.
Commissioners said a proposal drawn by their own staff fell short of what's needed to prod Floridians into saving more energy. The panel asked staffers to return with a new recommendation Dec. 1.
The rejected proposal would have let major electric utilities keep most current standards while expanding education programs for consumers. It also would have required utilities to spend $12.2 million on rebates for customers who purchase solar water heaters.
Staffers recommended against stronger requirements because that could lead to higher rates. Environmentalists argue such rate increases would be relatively small but bills would be lower because consumers would be using less power.
"We're all very conscious of the financial burdens that are on the consumers but if we don't move forward and instead keep the status quo, we'll just never get there," said Commissioner Nancy Argenziano.
The commission is required to review the energy conservation goals for the state's major utilities every five years.
Staffers argued it would be wrong to force utilities to spend money on incentives to convince consumers to do things like buy energy efficient light bulbs or appliances because they'd likely do that on their own.
Commissioner Nathan Skop criticized that, saying the state needed to come up with more "robust" goals. Skop said staffers instead offered proposals designed to do "everything" the utilities wanted.
Susan Glickman, a consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called the commission's decision is a very positive step.
Utility representatives declined to criticize the decision.
"We've been in the business of helping customers save energy and money for more than a quarter of a century," said Progress Energy Florida spokesman Tim Leljedal. "Whatever the goal, we will continue putting customers in the best position to save."
Florida Power & Light Co. spokesman Mayco Villafana said the state's largest electric utility looked forward to the staff's new recommendations.
"We operate the number one energy efficiency program in the country and have the lowest bill in the state of Florida," Villafana said.
The goals also would apply to Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power Co., Florida Public Utilities Co., the Orlando Utilities Commission and Jacksonville's JEA utility.