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Fla. court power ban doesn’t dim hopes

By DEBORAH CIRCELLI
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 10, 2000 (The Palm Beach Post)—Out-of-state power companies say it’s a question of when – not whether – they will be able to build electric plants in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court last week denied an appeal of its original decision banning the plants, but several companies that want to build in the state say they’re not discouraged, and one says it hopes to start selling electricity as soon as 2003.

“The bottom line is Florida needs a solution,” said Rick Rhodes, spokesman for Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, which wants to build two power plants in Florida. “It’s a region of the country that is experiencing tremendous growth, and yet it has the slimmest margin of excess electricity capacity.”

Duke and other power companies are vesting their hopes in the legislature and in persuading the state’s 2020 Energy Study Commission that Florida needs more power plants.

The commission, which plans to present an interim report to legislators in January, will hear from out-of-state companies and investor-owned utilities such as Florida Power & Light Co. at an Oct. 18 meeting.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a rehearing requested by Duke and the Public Service Commission, which had approved Duke’s plans for two wholesale power plants – a 514-megawatt gas- and steam-fired plant in New Smyrna Beach and a similar 608-megawatt plant southwest of Fort Pierce.

The court said state law does not permit so-called merchant plants whose power is not committed to retail customers. The unregulated plants sell power to other utilities in the state on the wholesale market.

But Duke isn’t the only out-of-state power company with designs on Florida. The PSC had put three other requests on hold pending the court’s decision. Staff members are reviewing the applications and will make their recommendations today. The PSC will make a final decision Oct. 17.

Here are some of the pending proposals:

  • A 1,000-megawatt plant in Port St. Lucie and another the same size in Leesburg, proposed by Dallas-based Panda Energy International.

“We remain optimistic that the study commission and legislators will see the benefits for all Florida electric consumers by at least taking the initial step of moving to a robust wholesale market and bring Florida into step with the rest of the nation,” said Steve Crain, Panda Energy’s managing director of project development.

  • A 550-megawatt plant south of Okeechobee, proposed by Pacific Gas & Electric of San Francisco.

The company expects its petition to be denied by the PSC, but it is moving ahead nonetheless with environmental and site plan work.

  • A 540-megawatt plant in Auburndale, proposed by Calpine Corp. of San Jose, Calif.

The PSC is allowing the company to continue with hearings on the plant planned in November. Calpine says it will meet state guidelines by having contracts that prove the power it sells to utilities will be used for retail customers.

They plan to submit a similar request in a month for a 1,080- megawatt plant at the St. Lucie-Indian River county line west of Vero Beach.

“The strategy we are using should allow us to go forward and have plants on line in 2003, even if the legislature does not change the law,” said Tim Eves, Calpine’s business development director.

Other companies such as Duke are also looking at ways to get in under the law, including building smaller-sized natural-gas plants that would sell power to utilities during high peaks of demand. State law also allows combustion turbines of any size that do not use steam to generate electricity.

“Right now they’re all kind of stuck,” said Mike Bedley, a partner with APEX Power Service Corp., a Fort Lauderdale-based energy consultant firm. “Until the legislature jumps on board, we’re looking at another three to five years before these power plants come on line, unless they are a qualifying facility.”

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