The Public Service Commission staff recommended Wednesday that Florida Power & Light refund nearly $14 million to customers, including interest, for costs related to a 2008 outage that left as many as 3 million Floridians without electricity.
The PSC plans to vote on the issue June 1. If the staff recommendation is approved, it would amount to a one-time $1.53 credit for customers who use 1,000 kilowatts hours — or about 14 cents a month if it's spread over a year.
About 950,000 Florida homes and businesses, including 596,000 FPL customers, lost power Feb. 26, 2008. The outage lasted several hours.
It was blamed on an FPL engineer whose actions accidentally triggered the blackout. The incident tripped off two nuclear units at the Turkey Point plant near Miami, as they are designed to be for safety reasons.
FPL officials have agreed to give customers credit for $2 million in costs for replacement power after the first eight hours of the outage.
But they have argued the company should not be responsible for covering millions more for replacement power during the time two nuclear generators were down — 158 hours and 107 hours. They said that would effectively punish the company for investing in nuclear power, which does not depend on fossil fuels.
"We deeply regret the inconvenience this incident caused our customers," said FPL spokeswoman Mayco Villafana.
"The PSC staff's recommendation sends an unconstructive message to owners and operators of nuclear power plants and to the investment community …particularly at a time when state and federal leaders are attempting to remove impediments to the construction of new nuclear power plants to meet this country's growing need for an abundant supply of clean, reliable power," Villafana said.
The Office of Public Counsel, the state's advocate for utility customers, disagreed. It's recommending customers receive a $15.9 million refund because they had no control over the outage and they pay for the high costs of nuclear plants, including profits on them.
PSC staffers said FPL should pay for the bulk of the costs, including interest and costs accrued when the nuclear generators were down. But they said FPL should be allowed to charge customers for costs during 27 hours when the utility was making "essential repairs" to one of the nuclear generators.
Federal regulators announced in October that FPL will have to pay a $25 million fine for the blackout. FPL did not admit any wrongdoing but agreed to pay the fine to resolve the issue.
In 2008, the commission ordered FPL to refund customers $6 million for another blackout, which was blamed on a utility contractor.
Julie Patel can be reached at jpatel@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4667.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun