The independent consumer watchdog over state utility regulators is once again under fire.
House leaders have tucked into a broad energy bill a proposal to remove the Office of Public Counsel from the control of the Legislature and shift it under the control of the governor and Cabinet serving as the Financial Services Commission.
The public counsel serves as the consumer’s lawyer in rate cases before the Public Service Commission and, since its establishment in the early 1970s, has been under the control of the Legislature.
But the state’s powerful utility companies haven’t always been happy with the way the public counsel operates. For example, lawyers for the public counsel have argued against rate increases, asked embarrassing questions of the utility giants and challenged their expert witnesses.
Every year for the past three years, the Office of Public Counsel has come under fire by lawmakers. In 2010, when the head of the Office of Public Counsel, J.R. Kelly, was opposing rate increases by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, legislators threatened to make Kelly re-apply for his job.
In 2011, when Kelly’s office was investigating Progress Energy’s botched repairs to its Crystal River power plant, legislators suggested moving his office under the attorney general. And this year, as Kelly’s office continues to investigate Progress for its nuclear project and gears up to challenge another rate increase request by FPL, the Legislature again is suggesting his office be moved. Story here.