By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - Attorneys for major power companies told state regulators Monday that mandates for energy efficiency rebates make them reward well-off Floridians at the expense of all residents and businesses.
But a state legislator and officials of some conservation organizations argued that electric utilities just want to eliminate cheap, renewable energy and create an ever-increasing demand for more power plants.
The Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, scheduled three days of hearings this week in a five-year review of its requirements that power companies help consumers with better windows, insulation, air conditioning and other efficiency measures. The companies add a few dollars per thousand kilowatt hours to fund the incentives.
Florida Power & Light company attorney John Butler asked the five-member commission to let the requirement of solar subsidies expire this year. He said the kickbacks have not brought down the cost of panels but have made everyone pay for the benefit of those who can afford them.
"In short, the solar pilots have demonstrated only that offering a limited pool of rebates will create a stampede of the fortunate few, working to make the rest of our customers subsidize their rooftop systems," he said.
But attorney Diana Csank of the Sierra Club said conservation can delay the need for plant construction. She said that's what the power companies really dislike as it cuts into their revenue.
"This is a case about money and risk," she said. "Resource decisions and goals set this year will decide how much energy efficiency the lowest-cost, lowest-risk resource we will have to protect Florida's consumers from the rising costs and risks of power plants," she added.
Alton Drew, an attorney for the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), urged the PSC to consider economic fairness.
"Implementation of conservation goals and programs should not require those who can least afford to invest in a highly efficient air-conditioner or solar rooftop panels to support those who do have the financial means to do so, and wish to do so," Drew said.
David Guest of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the poor have a stake in holding down future demand for power plants.
"The minority communities are disproportionately victimized by the pollution from power plants and they are disproportionately victimized by climate change," he said.
(Editing by David Adams and Eric Walsh)