Florida Power & Light backed away from a controversial proposal that would have used a severe winter storm in 1989 as a basis for future power-plant projects.
FPL filed a notice at the state Public Service Commission that said it was withdrawing the proposal from a normally routine process of utilities updating what are known as “10-year site plans” for projects.
Under the proposal, the 1989 storm would have been factored into plans for expanding the capacity of power plants and making other changes to handle “peak” electricity demand during the winter. But the proposal drew opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers in utility issues, and other groups as it could have helped lead to potentially costly projects.
FPL said it developed the proposal after studying massive outages caused by cold weather in February 2021 in Texas. In a statement Monday about withdrawing the proposal, FPL cited the Texas storm, as well as the 1989 storm and a 2010 winter storm in Florida.
“FPL has a duty and responsibility to deliver 24/7 electricity to more than half of Florida, and we constantly plan for both hot and cold weather scenarios which could realistically impact our ability to keep the lights on,” the statement said. “The 2021 Texas winter weather event that took the lives of more than 240 Texans is an example of an extreme scenario that could affect Florida — just as it did in 1989 and 2010. Ensuring there is adequate electric generation during extreme weather scenarios is never an exact science. It requires long-term planning and forward thinking. The winterization approach we filed as part of our Ten-Year Site Plan and Storm Protection Plans was created to protect our customers from these potential scenarios, but the feedback offered by the Florida Public Service Commission staff, the Office of Public Counsel and other organizations indicates that they don’t share our concerns.”
During a hearing last month, state Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel said the proposal would deviate from a planning process that electric utilities have long used. He and other opponents also disputed a connection to the Texas outages, pointing to issues such as a different regulatory structure in Texas.
Rehwinkel called the FPL proposal a “novel hypothesis.”
“The past 33 years, neither FPL nor any other utility has seen fit to apply this historical  event to its expansion, so why now?” Rehwinkel said during the hearing. “Well, the answer is, there’s no good evidence-based reason to change the process.’”
The FPL proposal called for upgrading existing power plants to add 700 megawatts of generation capacity to help meet peak winter demand. Also, it would have sought to “repurpose” five plants that had been slated to be shut down so they could be used if extreme winter weather is forecast.
During last month’s hearing, Andrew Whitley, manager of integrated resource planning at FPL, said it would cost an estimated $140 million to make the upgrades and that the repurposing costs would be “minimal.”
FPL has used a planning process that involved looking at a 50% probability that a “peak load” will be higher than forecast and a 50% probability that it will be lower than forecast. But in the proposal, FPL said severe cold over several days could lead to electricity use that is far higher than expected.
“In the 1989 event, the electrical heating loads were so high that FPL could not serve all of the customer demand,” the proposal said. “This resulted in large numbers of customers experiencing periods in which power to their homes could not be delivered, i.e., customers experienced ‘rolling blackouts.’”
The December 1989 storm brought snow to parts of the state and caused problems such as airports and interstates being shut down.
Jim Saunders reports for the News Service of Florida.