FPL execs get big bucks

Grant Miller

Grant Miller

Nearly six in 10 Miami-Dade County residents struggle to pay their basic bills. The United Way of Florida recently released a study titled ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) which details the problem.

One bill everyone pays for is electricity. Our state government requires those who live in our community to buy electricity only from Florida Power & Light (FPL) so they are not just a typical private company that competes for our business. Their hefty profits essentially are guaranteed.

It came to light recently that Miami-Dade County is losing $27 million each year — more than $80 million in the past three years — at their waste-to-energy facility because FPL, aided by state regulators, keep taxpayers from getting a fair price for the energy Miami-Dade County generates.

In December, county commissioners unanimously passed a resolution asking state legislators to fix this problem. It was discussed at the recent legislative delegation meeting at Florida International University and in a committee meeting in the House Energy & Utilities’ Subcommittee, but so far no action.

Our state legislators and other policymakers must stop enriching FPL at our expense. Be on the side of consumers for a change. FPL is swimming in profits and all of us — including those who can least afford it — are paying for it.

In 2015, FPL made $1.65 billion with profits up from 2014 by 8.6 percent, but they still sought a 15 percent rate increase. In 2014, they made $1.52 billion ‚ up from 2013 when they made $1.3 billion — an 8.9 percent increase over 2012.

Meanwhile, in May 2016, at a meeting of the board of FPL’s parent company Next Era, five top executives got a $31 million compensation package. This happened at a board meeting that lasted all of 17 minutes and was conveniently held in Oklahoma, far from Florida ratepayers.

While the average Floridian is paid about $40,000, FPL and its parent company Next Era have a dozen executives who earn more than $1 million with their top wage earner, the chair and CEO of NextEra Energy, bringing in $15 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.

According to the Sun Sentinel, which requested FPL salary data during the 2009 rate case, 39 officers earned an average of $623,273 in base salary, stock and other compensation. Sixty three senior directors got an average compensation package of $241,474, while 105 senior managers received an average of $205,043.

It’s no crime for people to be paid appropriately for their talents but since you’re forced to use them whether you want to or not, it bears examination because FPL also is fighting policies that could reduce customer costs… because that would reduce their profits and big paychecks.

And those that can least afford it bear the burden. The fact is that the lower one’s income, the greater the percentage that goes to paying for electricity. Those with lower incomes tend to live in rental units and homes that are older and less efficient, leading to higher power bills because the property owners don’t pay the utility bills and may not install best energy-saving measures and appliances.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) reports that “energy expenditures for rental apartments run 37 percent higher per square foot than in owner‐occupied multifamily units like condos and 76 percent higher than in owner‐occupied single family detached homes. Low-income households spend, on average, 7.2 percent of their income on utility bills. Ouch!

It doesn’t have to be this way. We could do better by our neighbors who are struggling. ACEEE estimates that energy efficiency investments for low-income households can make homes 25 percent more efficient which would reduce the energy burden of a low-income household by nearly 30 percent.

Yet, FPL gutted the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, the state’s conservation goal-setting program, in favor of rate increases to build expensive power plants fueled by out of state gas. Since they make more money doing it, monopoly utilities understandably would rather build new infrastructure like power plants and pipelines to bring in fuel from elsewhere.

Deploying energy efficiency would put people to work locally but instead Florida sends billions in energy dollars out of state each year rather than keeping energy dollars at home.

On a positive note, FPL is building new solar farms but they could do so much more. And since they are a monopoly, shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard?

FPL should not build new power plants we don’t need exacerbating our over-reliance on natural gas. Enough with the rate increases — $811 million in 2016 and another $318.5 million for the questionable costs of Hurricane Matthew.

Policymakers should make FPL help people be more energy efficient and they should give Miami-Dade County a fair price for the electricity it generates.

FPL should stop blocking rooftop solar for homes and businesses. Let’s not forget the state’s monopoly utilities just spent close to $30 million in a deceptive campaign in November to make it harder to get solar power. Fortunately, voters saw through that.

And FPL should be forced to build proper cooling towers for the existing Turkey Point nuclear reactors that are leaking wastewater into Biscayne Bay. We should all be paying attention. This situation could impact our drinking water.

Enough is enough. The time to act is now.

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