September 3, 2014
By J. Robert McClureFloridians aren’t surprised when they see seasonal spikes on their utility bills. A lengthy cold snap in January or lingering summer heat can send their energy bills soaring like fireworks on the Fourth of July.Fortunately, in a state blessed by ocean breezes and a climate ranging from temperate to subtropical, there’s welcome relief in the months when temperatures — and utility bills — remain in the moderate range.When considered yearly, these costs tend to even out. Indeed, the rates of Florida’s investor-owned utilities compare favorably with those elsewhere — and that’s quite a feat, given the challenges inherent in keeping up with the capacity demands of a growing state.However, regulations proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency concerning carbon emissions unfairly single out Florida, threatening to make those seasonal spikes the new normal and send the spiked months’ bills soaring to astronomical levels.The utilities are aware of this, and word is slowly reaching consumers. For instance, in its latest monthly newsletter, the Talquin Electric Cooperative sounds the alarm concerning the EPA’s proposal.Talquin — a customer-owned, nonprofit utility serving a mostly rural region in North Florida — warns its customers that under the proposed EPA rules, “Florida’s 2030 emission rate goal is set at a level 25 percent more stringent” than the average for other states.The note also highlights that “36 states will be allowed to have a higher 2020 emission rate than Florida” and “35 states will be allowed to have a higher 2030 emission rate than Florida.”Moreover, even though the EPA claims its proposed rules would reduce emissions by only 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, Talquin says the actual requirement is a 56.5 percent reduction.One result of these rules would be a faster abandonment of clean coal to generate power, even though it’s often the cheapest fuel available — and even though Talquin says it’s providing power from “one of the top 10 cleanest coal plants in the world.” Indeed, thanks to technological advances such as “scrubbers” on smokestacks, using coal to generate electricity can be safe, efficient, clean and cheap.Apparently that’s not good enough for the EPA, which continues to push rules that would affect Floridians’ electric rates in at least two ways. First, they’d require an accelerated shift in the fuels used to generate power, driving up costs dramatically and quickly. Second, in some cases this also would require huge capital investments to retrofit existing facilities — or build new ones — to accommodate different fuels.As for the EPA, many critics of its proposed rules perceive the agency as part of the administration’s “war on coal.” Not only does this campaign target an industry long vital to our nation’s security, but it also would destroy one of the few economic assets in some of America’s poorest regions.Yet the coal industry’s potential demise is viewed as mere collateral damage in the EPA’s efforts to placate environmental groups in the administration’s political base. Ironically, several of these groups, which thrive on warning about global warming, also have been in the forefront of opposition to the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil, clean-burning natural gas, and jobs from Canada and North Dakota to distribution points in Texas and Louisiana.The EPA’s other collateral damage would clearly be felt by Floridians. They soon could see the electric bills typical of the seasonal spikes become the new normal. This would disproportionately affect low-income families, many of whom already face challenges paying their utility bill.It’s time for Congress to summon EPA administrators to Capitol Hill and demand an explanation for the disparate effect on Florida and the adverse impact on electricity users throughout the land. When proposed regulations do not take into account the uniqueness of each state, the EPA is essentially federalizing energy policy by making decisions that have traditionally been reserved for the states. Too much is at stake to leave this issue to the bureaucrats.About the writer: Dr. J. Robert McClure is president/CEO of The James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based, nonpartisan think tank. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Column courtesy of Context Florida.