Coral Gables wants FPL customers to help pay cost of underground power lines in city

08/08/2014 5:48 PM

08/09/2014 10:28 PM

Coral Gables has asked Florida Power and Light if it would consider charging its customers statewide for a portion of the cost of putting transmission lines that will run through the city underground.

The Gables is one of several cities, including Miami, South Miami and Pinecrest, that joined together to fight FPL’s plans to build two nuclear generators at Turkey Point and run 80- to 100-foot transmission lines up U.S. 1 to a substation in Coconut Grove. Right before Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet decided to allow the utility to build the transmission lines, Coral Gables reached a settlement with FPL to end the legal dispute.

Putting the lines underground would cost about $51 million, according to a study conducted by FPL as part of that settlement. The City Beautiful has until June 2015 to decide whether to install the lines underground or above ground.

The city has asked the utility to consider using a tariff on the power bills of customers who are are deemed to benefit from lines being put underground. That tariff could cover 25 percent of the “undergrounding” costs.

FPL and Coral Gables are at odds on who would benefit from underground power lines.

City Attorney Craig Leen said all of the utility’s customers in the state would benefit from the underground transmission lines because the lines would be more secure during powerful storms like hurricanes. At the same time, the city feels it would be burdened by construction of underground lines.

“I think the benefit is statewide,” he said. “But there’s a cost to us.”

A letter sent to FPL from environmental attorney Jeremy Susac, who is working with the city, cites a 25 percent credit available to cities who want to put their above-ground distribution lines underground while asking the utility for a list of pros and cons of applying that credit to higher-voltage transmission lines.

“It is our understanding that this credit is funded by the utility’s general body of ratepayers because the [Florida Public Service Commission] found that the general body of ratepayers benefited from undergrounding electrical facilities,” he wrote.

Bill Orlove, spokesman for FPL, said Friday that the utility maintains that faraway customers should not bear the cost of a project that will benefit local customers.

“Our position has always been that our customers from Daytona Beach to Naples and the hundreds of towns in between should not pay for undergrounding a section of power lines that benefit customers in Miami-Dade County,” he said.

The Gables is hopeful it can persuade the utility to go to the Florida Public Service Commission to ask if it would apply the logic from the 25 percent credit for distribution lines to the higher-voltage transmission lines, which would lower the price the Gables would have to pay for undergrounding.

Another alternative for the city would be to levy a special assessment tax on residents that it deems would benefit from underground lines.

“We’re exploring that, and it would require an economic study,” said interim city manager Carmen Olazabal.

Another idea discussed involves somehow attaching the lines to the Metrorail or placing the lines along the Metrorail corridor. Commissioners instructed staff to continue studying the possibility.

The commission had considered sending the matter to the city’s voters in November in the form of a straw poll that asked if residents wanted to put the lines underground at a cost to the city, but it chose to explore the other concepts further instead.

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