FLORIDA UTILITY TO GET NEW HEARING IN BID TO USE ORIMULSION

FLORIDA UTILITY TO GET NEW HEARING IN BID TO USE ORIMULSION

The state opened a new round of hearings Thursday on Florida Power and Light's bid to burn imported tar-based Orimulsion fuel at its Parrish plant near Tampa Bay.

After rejecting the fuel in 1996 as untried and environmentally risky, Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet last year ordered further evaluation of added safeguards FPL promised against spills and pollution.Administrative Law Judge Larry Johnston has scheduled two weeks of hearings at the Manatee County Civic Center, and will report back to the governor and Cabinet.

FPL, the state's largest utility with about 3.3 million customers, lost a narrow 4-3 Cabinet vote in April 1996 on its bid to burn Orimulsion. FPL said using the mix of 30 percent water and 60 percent tarlike bitumen from along Venezuela's Orinoco River could save $4 billion over 20 years, enough to trim $40 from the average residential bill.

Opponents - who include Tampa Bay area environmentalists, some local governments, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson and CSX Transportation, which ships coal to utilities - said that estimate was based on erroneous oil price forecasts.

Plants in Japan, Denmark, Canada, Italy, China and Lithuania burn Orimulsion, and state and federal environmental agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard and a state hearing officer recommended approval of FPL's plan.

But Gov. Chiles and some Cabinet members questioned why Florida should be the first place in the United States to inaugurate regular Orimulsion use.