Power Plays

Residents of Lake Worth, many of whom have made small but successful careers specializing in complaining about their high utility bills, might not know that the city actually gets the power to turn their fans and nuke their frozen dinners not from the beleaguered Lake Worth Power Plant but from the Florida Municipal Power Agency. Lake Worth is one of 30 cities in Florida, including Key West, Vero Beach, and Homestead, that rely on FMPA for energy that comes from a conglomeration of distant coal and nuclear facilities -- and maybe just occasionally, their own hometown plant.

The FMPA's reach is wide, and so is its impact on the kinds of energy Florida invests in. The executive board rarely meets publicly in South Florida. It's a pretty sure bet they didn't expect the 15 or 20 protesters at PGA National who turned out on Tuesday, at least one of them wearing a Homer Simpson costume, to welcome arriving board members and to make it clear they don't think much of FMPA's idea to invest in a $17 billion nuclear power plant in Levy County, in northwest Florida.

"Some people want to say that nuclear energy is green energy because it's cleaner than other sources," activist Russell McSpadden, who lives in Lake Worth, told us. "But there is evidence of cancer clusters, like around the Port St. Lucie plant, where children are getting brain cancer at an early age -- at rates of 400 times the national average. And that's when the plants are running safely -- we're not even talking about a meltdown. The plants also use a huge amount of water; they're expensive, dangerous, and dirty. The FMPA is an elusive group, and this may be the closest we're going to get to them."

McSpadden says the Florida Green Party and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) have filed formal complaints against the permitting of the plant.

Lake Worth City Commissioner Cara Jennings, who has lately been building her own solar panels ("I bought one panel for $600 and built another one in two hours for $100 -- I'm not so good with technology, but this is really easy") is encouraging South Floridians to show up for tomorrow's board meeting at PGA National.

"The FMPA is mismanaged," Jennings says. "Our City Commission is supportive of renewable energy, but the FMPA isn't investing in renewable, and they're not interested in conservation. One of the reasons our rates are so high is that FMPA bought gas at too high a price, and now we're paying for it. Customers understand if their bills go up with high gas prices; the problem is, their bills don't go down when prices drop."

Jennings wants to talk to the board about "net metering." As of now, Lake Worth residents who install solar panels, as she's doing, can't sell their extra power back to the city or receive credits from Lake Worth Utilities.

The Lake Worth City Commission recently voted to withdraw from FMPA, a process that takes five years. "So we have four and a half years to figure out what our alternatives are," Jennings says.

The FMPA executive board meets Friday, July 17, at 10:30 a.m., 400 Avenue of the Champions, PGA National Resort and Spa, in the British Ballroom. Public commentary is welcome.


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