Climate Justice Groups Decry FPL's $500 Million Proposal to Prepare for "Extreme Winter Event"

Community advocacy groups note that an "extreme winter event" in Florida is highly unlikely.
Community advocacy groups note that an "extreme winter event" in Florida is highly unlikely. Photo by Icy Macload/Getty Images
Mindful of the devastating effects of Winter Storm Uri, which left 4.5 million Texans without power in mid-February 2021, Florida Power and Light (FPL) submitted a $500 million proposal to the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in April seeking funds for a list of capital projects over the next ten years, including updated infrastructure, new electrical lines, and investments in gas power plants in the event of an "extreme winter event" in Florida.

"The 2021 Texas experience prompted FPL to take a company-wide examination of how well its generation, transmission, distribution, and fuel delivery systems were positioned should an extreme Winter event occur in Florida," the 316-page proposal states.

Meanwhile, it hasn't snowed in Miami in 45 years.

Locally, community advocacy groups worry that if the PSC approves FPL's request, Miami customers will take yet another hit — on top of the roughly $9 rate increase in January that will continue to incrementally rise by 16.4 percent over the next four years. What with the affordable-housing crisis, inflation, and the economic strains brought on by COVID-19, Floridians might have a hard time acknowledging the threat of a winter storm, especially amid the loud and constant hum of their air conditioners in the summer.

"There was testimony given by experts at the Public Service Commission hearing, showing that the extreme weather event that FPL is using to try and justify this expenditure, is so far out, any chance of it occurring would be once in a million years," says Christian Wagley, an organizer for Healthy Gulf, a climate-justice nonprofit based in New Orleans. "They've chosen this weather event — it's just extremely unlikely — in order to justify spending a lot of extra money on upgrading infrastructure."

FPL, a subsidiary of Juno Beach-based electricity monopoly NextEra, is an investor-owned, regulated monopoly — which means its rates, services, and activities are managed by the PSC. Earlier this month, FPL told the commission it needs this infrastructure to adequately serve customers in the event of an extreme winter event, citing both Texas' unpreparedness for Uri and two extreme cold spells in Florida dating back to 1989, when the mercury dipped to 8 degrees Fahrenheit in High Springs (northwest of Gainesville), and 2010, when the average temperature of 52.7 degrees Fahrenheit in Miami broke the record for the coldest 12-day period since 1940.

"Meanwhile, people right now are struggling and we are seeing local, state, and national coverage on the record-breaking extreme heat," says Natalia Brown, climate-justice program manager for Catalyst Miami, a locally based economic-justice nonprofit. "I heard this year school is being canceled in some places for heat like I've heard of schools being canceled for snow."

In August, the commission will host a workshop where FPL will present its ten-year, $500 million proposal. If the PSC goes on to approve the plan, the state's utility policy allows FPL to pass along the full cost of the project to customers. Though rate increases for customers are not explicitly addressed in FPL's plan, Brown is concerned it will translate into higher electric bills.

"Ultimately, a lot of the people that are impacted when FPL comes back again and asks for another power plant are our low-wealth neighborhoods, communities of color, folks who historically have been denied access to capital and marginalized in a lot of policymaking around energy," she says.

For Brown, it's not just the monetary impact but the carbon impact, as well, as FPL continues to rely predominately on fossil fuels to power its plants. The long-term solution, she insists, is energy efficiency.

"If FPL was truly concerned about meeting the needs of their customers — no matter extreme heat, extreme cold, a normal spring afternoon — energy efficiency, would be the way to ensure that the grid is more reliable," Brown says, "and it is the most cost-effective solution that we have."
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