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Fla. court rejects out-of-state merchant power plant

By DEBORAH CIRCELLI

PALM BEACH, Oct. 05, 2000 (The Palm Beach Post)—Out-of-state electric utilities looking to build power plants in Florida have again lost a plea to the state Supreme Court.

The so-called merchant plants, which are opposed by Florida Power & Light Co., want to build plants that will sell power at wholesale rates to other utilities in Florida. But the Supreme Court has maintained that state laws do not allow power plants whose output is not committed to retail customers.

The court Thursday denied a request for a rehearing of its April ruling that the Public Service Commission had no authority to approve a merchant plant in New Smyrna Beach.

The plant would have been built by Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, which appealed the ruling along with the PSC and the New Smyrna Beach Utilities Commission.

The PSC in March 1999 approved Duke’s petition to build a 514-megawatt plant in New Smyrna Beach. Duke planned to sell part of its power to the city. Electric utilities in the state, including FPL, opposed the plant and appealed to the Supreme Court.

Bill Swank, an FPL spokesman, said the decision further confirms his company’s contention that the plants are not allowed “except under a few specific exceptions.”

Duke and PSC representatives said they are reviewing Thursday’s decision.

As part of its mandate to examine the state’s future energy needs, Gov. Jeb Bush’s Energy 2020 Study Commission plans to bring an interim report in January to the legislature on whether state laws need to be changed to allow the unregulated power plants.

“In a sense, what we’ve done in this case will help to clarify how the legislative process goes forward,” said Richard Bellak, the PSC’s associate general counsel. “I don’t think it was an effort that was wasted.”

Rick Rhodes, a spokesman for Duke, said he hopes his company will be able to build in Florida after the legislature addresses the issue.

The parties also could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The bottom line is there is a need for more energy in Florida, and we remain very interested to be a part of that energy solution,” Rhodes said.

© 2000 The Palm Beach Post via Bell&Howell Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.