One of Florida's largest utility companies is heading west, looking for natural gas in Oklahoma.
It's a $200 million drilling project, with the goal of saving customers money. But, first customers have to put up the money to pay for the project. Critics say that's unfair.
To hear it from Florida Power & Light, lower electric bills are only a fracking expedition away.
Under the prairies of Oklahoma lie billions of cubic feet of natural gas - the fuel for power plants.
Tapping it there can be a lot cheaper than trying to buy it on the market but, don't expect FP&L to pay for all that drilling.
The Public Service Commission has given the company approval to bill customers.
Consumer advocates have a big problem with that. They call the project a potential 'boondoggle' and they're asking the Florida Supreme Court to step in.
“The Legislature clearly did not give the Public Service Commission carte blanche authority to grant a monopoly utility the right to invest in anything that might attenuously relate to the inputs that they use to generate electricity,” said J.R. Kelly, Florida Public Counsel.
For years now, critics have been accusing regulators of being too cozy with the very power executives they're supposed to keep in check.
This could be one more example of customers being forced to foot the bill for a gamble that might not pay off.
In fact, a year into the drilling, the project is losing money.
What happens here could decide if other power companies, like Duke Energy, will be allowed to bill their customers for gas prospecting, too.
FP&L's Sarah Gatewood says there's no way the companies could afford to frack without help from customers.
“What we're doing is investing in natural gas at the source to help lower the risk for customers and bring in savings for them. If we did not anticipate customer savings, this is not something we would be pursuing,” said Gatewood
Already, the projected customer savings from FP&L's project have been cut in half and, if the high court rules regulators were out of bounds, the drilling could come to a halt.
Right now, Duke Energy customers are paying a monthly fee to help the company settle bills related to its failed nuclear power projects. But, that fee was specifically authorized by state lawmakers. There's no law that allows utilities to charge customers for drilling.