Underground power lines bill gets support

A proposal that could spur more underground power lines in Florida continued moving forward Thursday, with the issue now ready to go to the full House and Senate.

The House Commerce Committee unanimously approved the House version (HB 797), which would create a new process for utilities to pass along costs to customers for storm-protection projects, including installing underground lines.

Currently, utilities pay for such projects out of money they collect through base electric rates, but the bill would set up a separate process for those costs. Bill sponsor Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and other supporters said more underground power lines would help prevent lengthy electricity outages after hurricanes.

“Our constituents would tell you this is needed,” Fine told members of the Commerce Committee. “It is needed.”

But the proposal has drawn opposition from the senior-advocacy group AARP and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which argue the new process would lead to higher customer utility bills. Jon Moyle, an attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, said such projects should remain part of base electric rates, which are determined by looking at numerous types of utility expenses.

With Thursday’s approval, Fine’s bill has cleared all of its committees and can be taken up by the full House. The Senate version (SB 796), sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, also has cruised through committees and is ready for consideration by the full Senate.