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Atwater gives Bennett chairmanship of PSC nominating council

Senate President Jeff Atwater today named Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, to be the next chairman of the Public Service Commission Nominating Council, replacing Sen. Lee Constantine, an Altamonte Springs Republican who has applied to be appointed to the PSC himself.

Bennett was a strong advocate of ousted PSC commissioner David Klement and was in the minority supporting commissioner Benjamin "Steve" Stevens when the Senate refused to confirm them to the utility board. The commission had voted to reject large rate increase requests by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy and removing Stevens and Klement was a top priority FPL.

Bennett is a past chairman of the nominating council and has also worked closely advancing renewables bills sought by the utilities. Last session, he sponsored a bill that divided FPL and other utility companies like Progress Energy because it would have given FPL an edge in constructing solar power plants -- including one for Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida -- because they could more easily spread the cost of the higher rates to their larger customer base than smaller companies could. The bill would have allowed the utilities to charge customers higher rates for solar power without going through a rate hearing.

The nominating council must first send the governor three names each from a list of 61 candidates to replace Stevens and Klement and then must send three names each to fill the posts now held by Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano and Commissioner Nathan Skop. Both Argenziano and Skop are applying to be reappointed to the four-year term.

Atwater said he wants the process to be open and has also asked Bennett and the other two senators on the nominating board, Arthenia Joyner and Steve Oelrich, to "abstain from attending functions, fundraisers, or private events that includes institutions regulated by the PSC during the 60-day period that the council has to conduct interviews and choose nominees." Atwater's request does not effect campaign contributions senators may seek from electric, phone and water companies whose issue come before the PSC.

“I have spoken with Senators Bennett, Joyner, and Oelrich recently and expressed my expectations that the nomination process be conducted in an open, transparent manner; protecting the integrity of the process,'' Atwater said in a statement. "....I am confident that Senators Bennett, Joyner, and Oelrich are committed to nominating individuals of the highest integrity, focused on serving Floridians and this great state.”