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Florida Utilities: No to Solar, Yes to Fracking

If you were the kind of person who liked to sniff out plots and nefarious designs in headlines, you might raise an eyebrow over the recent actions of Florida's utilities. Over the course of the summer and fall, Florida Power & Light and others basically blocked the state's private solar industry from having any say in future policy talks, then delivered a fatal blow to solar by cutting down the state's rebate program.

Now, reeling from this victory, Florida's biggest utility has announced it wants to get into the fracking business.

According to the Miami Herald, this week FPL asked the Public Service Commission for permission to form a partnership with an Oklahoma fracking company to tap existing natural gas wells. The utility wants to charge customers $750 million a year for the setup -- which basically means all the risk in the venture shifts from shareholders to customers.

The utility argues that the arrangement with PetroQuest will save customers money over time by stabilizing gas prices -- somewhere between $51 million and $107 million. Right now, the utility buys natural gas off the open market. Under this proposed setup, however, FPL would pocket a 10.5 percent profit -- again, with customers paying for it all.

At a hearing this week before the PSC, opponents of the deal argued against fracking, pointing out that there's nothing to ensure the wells will produce as much gas as the utility says they will.

In all probability, that opposition won't do much. The scary thing is that the PSC basically always does what the utility wants -- case in point, this year's solar fiasco. Duke Energy Corp. reps have also expressed interest in following FPL's lead, which means other utilities could be lining up for a pass to enter the fracking business.

The PSC will decided the issue by the end of the year. As the Herald also points out -- adding an ominous tone to this whole thing -- FPL also is asking that the commission allow the utility to move forward on similar deals without commission approval. Go figure.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson

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