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Regulators poised to deny a rate increase for Progress Energy

Florida utility regulators appear ready to vote for zero to close to zero increase in electric base rates for Progress Energy of Florida, leaving in place the $170 million increase they allowed the company to start charging customers in August as the company began working on construction of a new nuclear power plant.

Three Public Service commissioners said they agreed with Commissioner Nathan Skop that they will not support a rate increase, rejecting the company's request for 31 percent increase starting this year, and effectively leaving rates static.

"I don't think we'll see growth in spending like we saw in the last decade for a long time,'' said Commissioner David Klement, who said he would support a rate the would give the company only "the most conservative returns in these times...I believe that people will be in a period of austerity for a long time, and I believe company profits should reflect that."

In the audience sat 18 seniors from AARP who traveled to Tallahassee on Sunday from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties to protest the rate increase. "It's too much to ask in ordinary times and these are extrodinary times,'' said Vonnie Riskin, 81 of St. Petersburg.

The panel voted unanimously to set Progress' return on equity of 10.5 percent -- the rate of profit it is guaranteed to achieve -- allowing the company to return to the commission for another rate increase if its profits fall below 9.5 percent and allowing customers to come back and seek a lower rate if profits exceed 11.5 percent.

The panel agreed to allow the company to set a debt-to-equity ratio of 50.3 percent and it rejected the company's request to set raise the amount of money it collects for a storm reserve. They PSC is halfway through a day-long debate on the rate case. Watch the discussion here.