After decades of gridlock over extending the commercial power to a sparsely populated island in the National Key Deer Refuge, Keys Energy Services has energized new electric lines on No Name Key -- but don't look for the lights to go on just yet.
Monroe County is not issuing permits to connect the new lines to any of the island's 42 homes, and a pending court case could further darken the prospects of those connections.
Homes on No Name Key are now powered with solar cells and/or generators.
In energizing the lines, the public electric utility steps out of the line of fire between residents who have fought to extend the grid to No Name and residents who have fought to keep it out.
The Monroe County Commission and the county's legal and planning staff have long been aligned with the latter group due to a provision of the county's comprehensive land-use plan that discourages extending utilities to the coastal barrier island. And the county is awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit in the 16th Circuit Court expected to clarify whether its land-use plan legally prohibits powering the island.
Keys Energy, however, was optimistic in its announcement of the project's completion.
"We anticipate being able to connect customers by early August," said Keys Energy Services spokesman Julio Barroso. "... At this point we are ready to connect; the issue is now between the homeowners and the county to resolve."
That resolution, it appears, will come from the court.
The few No Name Key homeowners who have applied for connection permits have been denied. Building officials mistakenly issued a permit to Jim Newton in April, but it was later revoked.
The county's Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting in October to consider Newton's permit appeal. Other appeals filed may be heard then as well, said Assistant County Attorney Derek Howard.
The county's lawsuit marks the second time in the past year courts have been asked to settle the issue. Earlier this year, Circuit Judge David Audlin ruled that the Florida Public Service Commission should make the determination.
But before the PSC could rule, the utility began installing poles and power lines.
The county had sought a temporary injunction to halt the project, but Audlin would not schedule a hearing on that motion before the project's completion date.
The issue has long divided the small community. Opponents of commercial power, who view the island as a model community for the use of sustainable, green energy, argue that connecting to the grid will encourage development. They say proponents are motivated by a chance to increase their property values.
Proponents, however, contend that commercial power is cleaner than the diesel generators on which many of them rely, and that it will have no impact on endangered species.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service ruled that endangered species, such as Key deer, would not be affected if the project was done correctly.