Southeast
Photo by Joey Roulette, Orlando Weekly

Florida could get more underground power lines, but utility customers would pay the price

After hurricanes during the past three years knocked out electricity for millions of Floridians, lawmakers are moving forward with regulatory changes that could lead to more underground power lines.

But it would come at a cost.

A House panel this week approved a bill (HB 797) that would create a new process that would allow utilities to pass along costs to customers for storm-protection projects, including installing underground power lines. A similar bill (SB 796) has received unanimous approval from two committees.

Supporters say the proposals could help reduce the number of residents and businesses left in the dark when future hurricanes blow through Florida.

“Great bill. I went through the hurricane in 2004 and lost my power. My neighbors lost their power. My whole community lost their power,” said Rep. Michael Grant, a Port Charlotte Republican whose area sustained massive damage in 2004 from Hurricane Charley. “When you come to a situation where your schools are shut down for weeks at a time and you’re importing workers from Wisconsin in the middle of August to reconnect neighborhoods and businesses, you’ll understand why this bill is so important.”

But opponents expressed concerns about the revamped regulatory process, which would create a new avenue for utilities to recover costs from customers. Jon Moyle, an attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said the bill would lead to a “one-way financial street” that would spur higher utility bills.

“This bill will increase rates,” said Moyle, whose group includes large electricity users and frequently is involved in utility-regulatory issues.

Lawmakers, regulators and utility companies have long faced questions about why more power lines are not buried underground in the hurricane-prone state. Those questions were refueled after widespread power outages from hurricanes Michael and Hermine in 2016, Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2018.

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