Most of the money that Florida Power & Light Co. collected from customers to develop alternative energy sources has not been used for that purpose, a state audit has found.
The bulk of the $9.5 million raised in FPL’s Sunshine Energy Program between 2004 and 2007 was paid to a contractor in Texas for salaries, office expenses, business travel, research, marketing and a public relations consultant to administer the program, according to the audit findings. Auditors estimated that the contractor, Green Mountain, has spent about $2.2 million – 25.9 percent – to purchase and develop renewable energy.
“The costs for a start-up program are always more than for an existing program, and they tend to decrease over time,” according to an e-mail response from FPL. By 2015, the company estimates that half the Sunshine Energy Program money will be used to purchase and develop renewable energy.
The state had sealed the results of the audit at FPL’s request last month, but FPL released the report this week with only a handful of sentences blacked out.
For years, FPL has marketed the program as a way for customers to help develop solar projects in Florida. FPL’s Web site tells customers that by enrolling in the program “you are helping to make the construction of new solar projects a reality … right here in Florida.”
The program pledges to develop 150 kilowatts of solar energy in Florida for every 10,000 subscribers and buy 1,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits for every subscriber, every month.
The Public Service Commission’s probe of the program began in September with requests to the company for documents and explanations. FPL repeatedly responded by filing records under seal, saying the requested documents were “proprietary business information” and “contractual vendor data.”
In the final audit report, released May 30, all of the findings were blacked out at the request by FPL.However, in papers filed with the state this week, FPL asked the commission to keep only a few sentences confidential because it is “proprietary confidential business information.”
“We don’t have a problem with any information concerning Sunshine Energy from being made public,” FPL spokeswoman Sharon Bennett wrote in an e-mail. “However, we do have a contractual obligation to keep certain information belonging to Green Mountain Energy from being disclosed.”
Among the state’s findings and FPL’s responses:
Last year, only 25 percent of the renewable energy purchased by Green Mountain for FPL came from Florida companies.
In response, FPL pointed to its plans to revise the program “to focus on construction of physical renewable assets in Florida.”
Auditors also found that Green Mountain purchased renewable energy for FPL from an FPL Energy-owned wind farm in Texas. FPL explained that the purchases were made through third parties or brokers.
Auditors were unable to follow-up on the purchases because they received FPL’s explanation in the final week of the audit.
On Monday, the commission’s staff will file its recommendations in response to the audit.
By Christine Stapleton
20 June 2008
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