- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida power companies may soon be able to charge customers to fund out-of-state fracking projects under a measure that is moving ahead in the Florida Legislature.

The bill approved by a Senate panel on Tuesday would undo a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that said companies who levied such charges were overstepping their authority. Power companies have argued the measure would save customers money when natural gas prices increase.

Lawmakers passed the bill over the objections of customers and environmental groups who said such legislation would be a “disinvestment on renewable energy” and would increase the state’s reliance on natural gas.

The proposal would give the Florida Public Service Commission the power to permit companies to recover costs for oil and natural gas exploration projects out of state. Such projects could include fracking, a practice that Floridians have pushed against in recent years with dozens of local measures and proposed legislation for an all-out fracking ban within state lines.

In order for a power company to earn a return on its capital expenditures, it would have to generate at least 65 percent of its electricity by using natural gas. According to the measure’s staff analysis, Florida Power & Light - the largest utility company in the state - is the only company that currently meets that requirement.

While customers could potentially save money if natural gas prices increase, they would not reap any of the benefits if no natural gas is found in a well, if production costs increase or if less natural gas is produced than projected.

Sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, the bill now heads to the full Senate floor for consideration. A similar House version has cleared one committee.

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The bill is SB 1238.

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