We see many examples of the negative effects of monopoly power with little effective oversight, the Equifax debacle just to cite one. Even worse, however, is monopoly power that has captured the regulatory oversight that monitors it. That appears to be the case in Florida with Florida Power and Light (FPL).
A Miami New Times article points out the billions in dollars that FPL gained through rate increases in order to be more prepared for hurricanes was apparently totally ineffective, as 90% of FPL’s customers lost power when Irma hit. That includes areas on the east coast of the state where winds only reached the strength of a Category 1 hurricane. Despite supposedly spending $2 billion to reinforce more than 500 critical power lines and trimming trees near power lines, a major cause of power loss, the damage to the power grid was substantially more extensive than the Category 2 hurricane, Wilma, that struck the state in 2005. Now, obviously, there were differences between the two hurricanes, especially as Irma’s more destructive side hit Florida. But the billions of dollars spent by FPL preparing for a storm just like this does not seem to have had much effect.
FPL had also set up a new information system for customers so that they could check online to see when the power returned to their home and plan their return accordingly. That system was not only often unreachable but also continually provided false information, as homeowners returned only to find out that there was still no power despite what the FPL site said.
While the $2 billion that went in to supposedly preparing for the next hurricane may seem like a lot of money, FPL specifically avoided spending money on measures that really would protect the power grid. That would include burying more power lines underground, reducing the loss of power due to wind damage. Instead FPL, implemented yet another $800 million rate hike to build one backup natural gas and two nuclear power plants. And FPL has fought tooth and nail to run the main power lines from those reactors above ground rather than burying them.
In addition, FPL has been attempting to limit the use of solar power so that it only benefits FPL. The company has been fighting the net-metering law that allows solar power to be sold back to FPL for years. Last year, FPL spend $8 million pushing a ballot initiative that was promoted as being pro-solar but actually would have ended net-metering entirely.
Most egregious, however, is the fact that there are probably thousands of homes in Florida that currently have solar panels and could power their own homes while FPL tries to restore power to them. But FPL and Florida law specifically prohibits these homeowners from doing that. According to the New Times, “FPL’s lobbying wing has fought hard against letting Floridians power their own homes with solar panels. Thanks to power-company rules, it’s impossible across Florida to simply buy a solar panel and power your individual home with it. You are instead legally mandated to connect your panels to your local electric grid. More egregious, FPL mandates that if the power goes out, your solar-power system must power down along with the rest of the grid, robbing potentially needy people of power during major outages”. This creates the insane situation where thousands of Floridians are capable of powering their own homes in the wake of this hurricane but are forbidden to do so and remain in the dark because of FPL rules.
In the past, it was perfectly understandable for power companies to be a regulated monopoly. But the advances in renewables and battery technology is making many of those rules obsolete. More worrying is the fact that these monopolies are able to not only capture the regulatory authority but also the state legislatures in order to continue to milk the public in their monopoly position. FPL and it parent company made $1.7 billion in 2016 alone, nearly enough to offset the supposed $2 billion that they spent in over 12 years preparing for a storm like Irma. It sure looks like FPL got more from Floridians than Floridians got from FPL.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on September 18, 2017.