State regulators Monday heard arguments about whether Florida Power & Light should build a nearly $1.2 billion power plant that the company says will limit air pollution and help meet electricity needs in South Florida.
The plant would replace a 1960s-era facility at Port Everglades in Broward County and start generating electricity in 2016. The Florida Public Service Commission is considering whether to approve what is known as a "determination of need" -- a key step in the project moving forward.
"(The new Port Everglades plant) is the right project in the right location at the right time,'' FPL attorney John Butler said.
But the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which includes businesses that use large amounts of electricity, opposed the proposal. The group's attorney, Jon Moyle, argued that FPL could buy electricity from other sources to meet its needs, instead of building the plant.
"We don't think that this is the right decision for the consumers and is not a decision that you should support,'' Moyle told the commission.
The PSC did not vote on the issue Monday, after Moyle asked to file written briefs. Those briefs are due March 2.
The plant, which is projected to cost $1.185 billion, would be fueled by natural gas and generate up to 1,277 megawatts of electricity. The old Port Everglades plant, which can burn oil and natural gas and has a 1,187-megawatt capacity, was taken out of service in 2010 but could be used again.
FPL says the project would have a number of benefits, including helping meet the future power needs of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Rene Silva, senior director of resource assessment and planning for FPL, said the utility otherwise could face costly projects to add transmission lines and infrastructure to bring electricity to the heavily-populated area.
The company argues the technology involved in the plant would limit air emissions and, ultimately, would help hold down the company's fuel costs -- which make up a major part of customers' monthly bills. The company also says the project would be more than $400 million cheaper than other alternatives, such as upgrading the existing Port Everglades facility or building a plant on another site.
Typically, utility customers pay for new power plants through base rates, after the plants start operating. FPL recently floated a proposal that might allow it to avoid a full-blown rate case before customers would start paying for Port Everglades and other new plants, though lawmakers have not approved that proposal.
Moyle told the commission Monday that he thinks the utility's decision to build the Port Everglades plant was aimed at helping company shareholders, rather than customers. Investor returns are built into utility base rates.
"Who needs this plant?'' Moyle asked. "We believe it's not FPL's consumers. We believe it's FPL's shareholders that need this plant."
But Silva, the only witness during the hearing, disagreed with Moyle and said the interests of customers and shareholders are aligned in such decisions.
"Whenever we proceed with an evaluation of alternatives, our view -- my view -- is, how can we do this so it is the best alternative for the customer?'' Silva said.