Florida Power and Light is on the verge of a settlement with the city of Miami that would shed one of the biggest opponents of its planned Turkey Point nuclear power plant expansion.
Under an agreement set to go before Miami commissioners Thursday, the city would drop long-running legal challenges in exchange for five miles of discount underground transmission lines running along U.S. 1. The city, among several that have sought to block FPL from running lines as tall as 100 feet through some of South Florida’s most affluent communities, would pay $27 million to bury the utilities from FPL substations at Douglas Road to Southwest 15th Road.
That’s a significantly reduced rate compared to the $18 million-a-mile price previously quoted by FPL representatives to the South Florida cities objecting to the idea of utility poles towering over homes and streets. The price is attractive considering that Florida communities pushing to bury utility lines are typically forced to bear the cost themselves due to a state requirement that utilities be installed in the most “cost-effective” manner.
Still, by agreeing to the settlement, commissioners would have to drop their cases challenging the construction and operation of FPL’s new reactors, as well as its request for cost recovery funding by passing on future costs to customers. Those efforts have not been insignificant: Early this year, Miami, Pinecrest and South Miami were successful in overturning state approval of FPL’s reactors and 89 miles of transmission lines up U.S. 1 and through sensitive wetlands in west Miami-Dade.
But the utility continues to push forward, and remains able to maneuver around judicial decisions through a Florida Legislature that is increasingly pre-empting local government regulations — a reality that likely factored into Miami’s willingness to consider a deal that puts its partners on the outside looking in.
“If the city of Miami really does settle — and let’s put aside whether they’re getting a good deal or not — that really does put South Miami and Pinecrest on our own,” said South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, adding that he learned of Miami’s proposed settlement through a public records request instead of from Miami officials. “Normally your partners aren’t supposed to settle on you without discussing it. But Miami has really just stepped away at this point.”
Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez declined to comment on the proposed settlement Friday, saying she was uncomfortable discussing the details of an agreement that has yet to be executed. Coral Gables, at one point among the cities challenging FPL’s transmission lines, agreed years ago to a settlement that merely capped the height of FPL’s utility poles.
Marie Bertot, an FPL spokeswoman, said in a statement that “when the city is comfortable with sharing our collaborative plan, we will be happy to discuss the details.”
“We have been working collaboratively with city leaders to ensure that we can make essential long-term improvements in infrastructure that serves not only the people of Miami but all FPL customers,” Bertot said.
Under the settlement, the city would pay FPL $4 million upon the execution of the agreement, and the remainder of the undergrounding costs 30 days prior to construction, estimated to begin by early 2019. The city plans to finance the expense through the sale of bonds supported by general fund revenues, according to public documents.
The agreement also requires FPL to underground feeder lines at its own expense in high-density areas of Coconut Grove, the Design District, Midtown, West Brickell and Wynwood as future development occurs.
Additionally, FPL says transmission line circuits sought in Miami as part of its Turkey Point expansion won’t be required to deliver electricity from the new reactors if they’re built. And FPL won’t install new utility poles in the city’s U.S. 1 corridor for the next 10 years, save at crossings.
The utility continues to seek a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for its expansion.