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House advances bill giving regulators sole discretion on underground power lines

Legislation to give the Florida Public Service Commission “exclusive jurisdiction” for deciding whether underground transmission lines are required for power-plant projects advanced through a House committee Wednesday.

Pace Republican Jayer Williamson, who co-sponsored the bill in the House with Palatka Republican Bobby Payne (HB 405), told the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee that while the language in the official bill is cumbersome, it essentially does three main things:

— It revises the definition of the word “development” to exclude work done by certain utility providers through certain corridors;

—  requires a concrete certain uniform variance standard, and

— clarifies that the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) has exclusive jurisdiction to require underground transmission lines.

The bill passed on a 13-1 vote.

Dave Cullen with the Sierra Club was the only member of the public to speak out against the bill. He said his organization opposed the legislation when it was introduced in the 2017 regular Legislative Session because it had the potential of creating 350-foot towers going through Everglades National Park.

“I understand this is an issue; if this bill passes, FP&L (Florida Power and Light) could bring that proposal right back to the PSC, and we could be right back where it is,” Cullen told the committee. “Fundamentally we think localities have to have the ability to make the decisions that their constituents and residents want.”

David Childs, with the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, said the PSC would have the exclusive authority to require undergrounding power lines, but Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet would have the final say over any environmental impacts to an area.

The issue goes back to 2014, when the governor and the Cabinet, acting as the state’s power-plant siting board, approved an FPL nuclear-power project in Miami-Dade County. The 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned that decision, ruling in favor of local governments.

The appeals court ruling said Scott and Cabinet members erroneously determined they could not require underground transmission lines as a condition of the project approval. FPL argued that the Public Service Commission — not Scott and the Cabinet — had authority over issues involving installation of underground lines.

Thonotosassa Republican Tom Lee filed a companion bill in the Senate.

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

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