FPL Wins State Approval to Build New Natural-Gas Power Plant in South Florida

Florida Power & Light
The United Nations recently told everyone on Earth to stop emitting carbon dioxide into the air by 2050.

Despite this warning, Florida Power & Light (FPL), the largest energy company in the Sunshine State, is now all but definitely building a fracked-gas-burning power plant in Dania Beach. Today, Florida's Siting Board, a panel consisting of Gov. Rick Scott and his cabinet, unanimously approved FPL's $888 million plan.

FPL has pitched the project as a necessary update to lower carbon emissions in the state: The company says the new plant will cut "primary air emissions" of the old plant by 70 percent. That may be true, but activists have consistently warned the projected carbon emissions will still contribute to climate change, especially because the plant will not open until at least 2022 and is projected to operate for four decades.

More than 1,000 Floridians reportedly called Scott's office to oppose the plant. In January, four Dania Beach residents traveled to Tallahassee to beg the Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees the state's four regulated energy monopolies, to force FPL to quit building natural-gas power plants and instead focus on zero-emission solar and wind energy. The PSC, which has been accused of being a lapdog for the power firms, approved FPL's request anyway.

Environmentalists repeated their concerns today at the siting board's meeting in Tallahassee. Though environmental groups were forced to appear in person, Scott and the other members of the board — state CFO Jimmy Patronis and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam — appeared via speakerphone.

“The public, your constituents, simply do not want this plant and have made it very clear at every step in this contorted process,” Susannah Randolph, the Sierra Club’s senior campaign representative for Florida, told Gov. Scott today, according to a media release. “From the beginning, this process has excluded the very communities most likely to be impacted." Randolph noted that FPL plans to raise the power plant by 11 feet to account for future sea-level rise, but she questioned whether the company was adequately preparing for the damage that carbon emissions would still do to the globe. She asked:

But what about the people of Dania Beach? A community made up of many low income, minority residents who struggle to make ends meet under even the best conditions. Will FPL pay for their homes to be elevated? What happens to the families, the children, even the workers in that community when that tide of inevitability washes in? What will you tell them when the last of their personal possessions wash out to sea while the very plant that fuels that tide stands above them?

And what about the communities outside Florida that are impacted by climate change resulting from decisions like the one you are about to make? Our Caribbean neighbors - Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands - who were ravaged by Hurricane Maria share a special relationship with Florida and I know that Governor Scott is particularly aware of the fact that there are Floridians who have family on those islands and who were recent residents themselves. They deserve a decision that will acknowledge the devastating impact that climate change has had on their lives.

Representatives for FPL did not immediately respond to a message from New Times.

Today's siting-board hearing was one of FPL's final major hurdles. But even before the meeting took place, the state had already been accused of playing political games: According to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR), the siting-board hearing was scheduled for September, before the 2018 midterm elections, but was then mysteriously rescheduled to take place after November 6. The FCIR rightfully questioned whether the hearing was moved in order to make Scott, who was running for Senate, look better. (Scott ultimately won his race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.)

FPL has donated significant sums of money to every member of the siting board. (Executives from FPL and its parent company, NextEra Energy, gave more than $109,000 to Scott's 2018 Senate campaign.) Thus, environmental groups today tried to disqualify each of the three members from voting on the proposal.

But in what was perhaps the darkest and most Kafkaesque moment of the hearing, Scott voted down a measure to disqualify himself from the vote due to conflicts of interest.

"When a motion to disqualify is made before a board such as the siting board, the subject of the motion, Governor Scott in this case, should rule individually on the motion to disqualify," a siting-board representative said from a lectern. "Governor, do you wish to disqualify yourself from this agenda item?"

"No," Scott told the room via speakerphone. "I deny the motion to disqualify myself from this matter."

He then voted to approve the project.

Update: Here is a response from FPL spokesperson Christopher McGrath:

We are pleased with today’s Siting Board decision to approve this essential modernization project, which will allow FPL to continue delivering clean, affordable energy to our customers’ homes and businesses. Tearing down an aging power plant and replacing it with the highly efficient Dania Beach Clean Energy Center will cut primary air emissions 70 percent, reduce the amount of natural gas we use system-wide and save customers hundreds of millions of dollars over time. Importantly, this project is a continuation of our efforts in recent years to position FPL as one of the cleanest, yet affordable and reliable electric companies in the nation.

We’ll never understand why a group purported to care about the environment was opposed to replacing an aging power plant with a highly efficient clean energy center. Unlike the political group’s out-of-state lawyers who are incapable of grasping sensible energy policy, we live, work and raise our families here and we will never stop fighting to provide FPL customers with clean, affordable energy they can count on 24/7 to power their homes and businesses now and in the future.