President Obama's appearance yesterday at America's largest solar power plant, a Florida Power & Light (FPL) facility in DeSoto County, was of course planned to rally support for the administration's renewable energy efforts and green economy stimulus initiatives.
The President praised FPL and announced hundreds of millions of dollars in new federal matching funds for further such job-creating, eco-friendly clean energy initiatives. A good news story, but...as is so often the case in politics, the Devil is in the details.
And when it comes to Florida's political landscape and energy policies, bedeviling details abound.
Yes, FPL's Arcadia plant is a step in the right direction. But the reality is that it will be able to power up only about 3,000 homes. A nice start, but given the energy independence and climate change challenges we face, that's a spark, when a firestorm of action is what's needed.
Perhaps most disturbing is that FPL is reaping public relations benefits galore from the President's visit at a time when they need it most - to distract the public, legislators and regulators from the greed-soaked, corruption-stained trail of bad news stories that has plagued the company for months.
Where to begin?
Well, seems that FPL had such cozy relationships with members of the very Public Service Commission (PSC) charged with regulating it, that Florida's "smile and look the other way" governor, Charlie Crist, was finally forced into "action".
Two Commission members have been replaced. A criminal investigation is underway.
Corruption aside for a moment, or not, do make note of a fact which the President did not make note of today - that FPL - a publicly traded, private, for-profit company - was allowed to pass along development costs for this new solar plant to millions of customers.
Then on October 16th the PSC approved another such FPL request,
this time for "recovery" of over 63 million dollars, to pay for
expansion plans for two nuclear power plants, one called Turkey Point,
located quite near Miami.
How does this happen?
You see, Republicans in the Florida State legislature managed to "sneak" through a little law back in 2006 that allows private, for-profit utilities like FPL to pass along profit-driven developmental costs to their customers - even before being granted Federal approval for the related projects.
Anyway, I can get Kos fans to shoot for the tip jar while I'm still sitting in Starbuck's thinking through a new column. Hell, if there was any justice in the world, I'd at least get my Grande Bolds covered...
Think that Florida's Republican "public servants" added an amendment to their bill mandating that utilities, once profits funded by customers' development dollars started rolling in, repaid that investment in the form of, say, billing credits?
But back to the battle over FPL's latest billion-dollar-plus "regular" rate hike request, during which revelations came out about exorbitant FPL executive salaries and perks - salaries and perks paid for primarily by rates charged to financially strapped Floridians already sweating out too many days with the thermostat set too high, in hopes of bringing their bills down.
As part of public hearings into their requested rate increase, reports indicate that FPL has been stacking the deck, packing the hearings with "supporters" who have been solicited to participate, by FPL employees, on company time. Conflict of interest questions have also been raised about FPL board members who are also board members of influential organizations that somehow end up sending pro-FPL representatives to testify at hearings.