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Without the votes to challenge FPL now, the PSC approves its nuke request

More fireworks at the Public Service Commission Tuesday as Commissioner Nathan Skop refused to remove himself from the hearing on Florida Power & Light's request to seek immediate recovery of $81 million in nuclear plant development costs with a full hearing on the matter to come in January. Then, after a series of votes that indicated that only Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano and Skop seemed prepared to reject FPL's request, Argenziano moved to have the company's request approved with no discussion.

“I’m not wasting any time let's go. It’s where we’re headed,'' Argenziano said, effectively making moot her subpoena of FPL chief Armando Olivera, who was sitting in the audience. Argenziano had ordered him to appear under oath on Tuesday to answer questions about why the company submitted inaccurate information regarding its nuclear costs last year.

The board approved the motion 3-2, with Skop and Argenziano opposed. Olivera could leave.

The decision brought the board full circle, to the point it was three weeks ago, when staff, FPL and consumer advocates all agreed to allow the company to get approval of its nuclear costs now with a hearing to justify those costs set for next year. Shrouding that decision, however, was the fact that both Argenziano and Skop wouldn't be in office then, having both failed to be reappointed by the legislature's nominating council.

Skop was particularly interested in having questions answered as to why FPL officials provided the commission incomplete and inaccurate information regarding its nuclear costs.

In the intervening weeks, Skop accused FPL of causing him to lose his job. FPL then demanded that Skop disqualify himself from this and all other cases before the commission.

 But by Tuesday, newly-appointed Commissioner Art Graham cut through all of those manueverings and suggested they approve FPL's original request. Argenziano took it one step farther and suggested they approve it immediately with no discussion. They did.

Commissioner Lisa Edgar later said that she felt the vote was "forced upon me" and would have preferred to hear more witnesses. Commissioner Ron Brise said he "was very comfortable" with the decision because they will have another shot at getting consumers a refund if the PSC finds that FPL's costs are excessive.

"I do understand the angst of the commissioners who will not be here,'' he said.

Graham, too, suggested that to give the company and the PSC adequate time it was necessary to postpone the hearing. But, he said, the issue had unfortunately gotten bogged down. "Because of so many people moving off the commission, people are reading more into it than there really is,'' he said after the PSC adjourned.

Skop had cited Florida statute 120.665 as his reason for not disqualifying himself, saying that it allowed an agency head to be disqualified on a proceeding "prior tot he agency proceeding" not in the midst of it as FPL has requested.

"The statute governing disqualification was never mentioned in the motion and accordingly the statutory requirement is fatal to the motion as the motion was untimely,'' Skop said. He said his decision pertained only to the nuclear power issue and not any others before the commission.

The hearing progressed with fits and starts as Argenziano called several recesses to discuss parlimentary procedures. The commission will return to the issue next year, probably in August, long after Gov. Charlie Crist has named replacements for Argenziano and Skop.