TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme Court ruled April 25 that it was legal for an electrical utility company to impose fees on customers in order to recover costs for work done to reduce the environmental damage caused by the company’s Turkey Point Power Plant.
Justice Jorge Labarga wrote the opinion as Chief Justice Charles T. Canady and justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, Robert J. Luck and Carlos G. Muñiz concurred, affirming a ruling from the Florida Public Service Commission.
The Office of Public Counsel filed the appeal from the PSC on behalf of the citizens of Florida. The decision green-lighted the Florida Power and Light Company to essentially have its consumers pay for the costs needed for it to stay in environmental compliance.
“Because of the nature of the environmental harm at issue in this case, prevention and remediation are inextricably intertwined,” the Supreme Court ruled. “Safeguarding Biscayne Aquifer from future saline intrusion requires the clean-up of existing saline intrusion, and that action protects the environment from future harm.”
Chief Justice Jorge Labarga
Based on this finding, the court dismissed OPC’s argument. It also pointed out that the PSC sufficiently provided evidence that the costs needed to stay in compliance to align with a 2009 monitoring plan entered with FPL. It broke down the string of events and said the monitoring data caused environmental leaders to determine that the CCS was violating groundwater quality standards. A plan was put in place to correct the issue, which the FPL complied with.
“We therefore conclude the PSC’s finding on this issue is supported by competent, substantial evidence in the record and affirm the PSC’s decision with respect to this issue,” the Supreme Court said.
This decision gave FPL the OK to charge consumers to cover the costs.
The Turkey Point power plant is about 25 miles south of Miami and sits on about 11,000 acres along the Biscayne Bay and Card Sound. The Cooling Canal System is also on the west side of Turkey Point and is used as a cooling system for two of the units.
When FPL built the CCS back in 1971, it was based on a contract with the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1972 to 2013, the plant didn’t use any external water sources, causing the salinity in the water of the CCS to more than double the average in seawater.
The FPL ended up signing on to a new plan with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in October 2009, the fifth supplemental agreement. That along with the conditions of certification developed the 2009 monitoring plan. It said the SFWMD took a look at “recent monitoring data” that displayed “the interceptor ditch may not be effective in restricting the movement of saline water westward from the [CCS],” according to the lawsuit.
It called for a “full delineation” of previous, current and future effects of the CCS on groundwater that was “a necessary first step in evaluating existing conditions and, if necessary, identifying potential solutions to abate, mitigate, or remediate the movement of saline water and other water quality and ecological impacts from the [CCS],” based on the opinion.
FPL asked the PSC to let it recover the costs of executing the plan from consumers. PSC approved it and OPC appealed, stating that the Florida statute FPL depended on limits costs as it relates to the recovery of money spent and owed in an effort to block any harm to the environment. The case then went to the state Supreme Court, which backed the PSC’s decision.