TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Public Service Commission began three days of hearings Monday to consider allowing the state's major electric utility companies to revise energy conservation goals downward over the next five years.
The closed hearings drew protests from groups that wanted to weigh in on the topic. The PSC said it considered the hearings a legal forum to gather evidence and testimony on the conservation standards and did not allow any public testimony.
State Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, tried to persuade the PSC allow the public to commen.
"The name Public Service Commission includes the public,” he said. “The public should be heard on this, not hurt. Right now, they're about ready to get hurt.”
Dudley and environmental groups said allowing Florida Power & Light Co., Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power and three other utilities to lower energy conservation goals -- including eliminating solar power programs for homeowners -- will increase the demand for costly new power plants and result in higher electric bills for ratepayers.
Utility spokesmen said the energy conservation programs actually cost consumers money.
FPL, the state's largest utility with 4.7 million customers, projects a 13 percent increase in energy efficiency under the new standards over the next 10 years while saving ratepayers about $80 million a year by cutting conservation programs.
The claims were not convincing to protesters form environmental groups Monday.
The Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition website said it wants big public utilities to save more energy.
"They could invest in energy savings, but that would mean savings for their consumers not for their profits," said Kelly Martin with the Sierra Club.
The decision lies with the Public Service Commission, which regulates power companies. The commission requires the utilities to produce energy-conserving programs like rebates or home energy audits.
The PSC will listen to feedback the next couple of days then make a decision later this year.