December 13, 2012

Regulators to decide controversial settlement over FPL rates at hearing today

Florida utility regulators on Thursday will consider one of the most pivotal cases of their term — whether to approve a base rate increase of more than $543 million for Florida Power & Light without the consent of the office that represents consumers.

The proposed settlement would mean a $1 per month increase for typical customers next year and would allow the company to automatically raise rates again for two new power plants without the approval of the Public Service Commission in 2014 and 2016

The proposal has the backing of the state’s largest commercial power users, who would benefit from the deal.

But it is vigorously opposed by the Office of Public Counsel, the state agency charged with representing most consumers in utility rate cases.

Depending on how the PSC rules, the case “has the potential to change the way cases proceed in the future and, we think, not in a positive way,” said J.R. Kelly, the state’s public counsel.

FPL counters that “this has been a very thorough process and we think that the settlement is really the right path forward that benefits all of our customers and effectively locks in low rates while helping us deliver strong service for at least four more years,’’ said Mark Bubriski, FPL spokesman. Story here.

Read more here: here.

November 05, 2012

Florida response to Sandy includes Seminole Tribe and FPL staff

 Two of South Florida's largest businesses have reached out to offer their expertise in hurricane response to their bretheren in New York and New Jersey.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida announced today that, for the first time in history, it has deployed an emergency management team to assist the Shinnecock Indian Nation of New York.

Florida Power & Light last week not only deployed an estimated 860 employees and contractor workers to Virginia to New Jersey to help restore power to the areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, but the cpmpany also arranged to help many of those employees get an absentee ballot to vote while they are out of town.

"For those that did not already cast their votes prior to deploying, we’re coordinating absentee ballot requests and returns in the field,'' said FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski. 

The Seminoles, a 3,800-member tribe that owns the Hard Rock casinos in Hollywood and Tampa and five other casinos in Florida, sent two members of their emergency management division to Shinnecock Indian Nation in eastern Long Island, New York, to help them organize recovery efforts.

“This is the first time that we have been a part of the emergency management system as a conduit to provide assistance to another tribe,” said Jerry Wheeler, Public Safety Director for the Seminole Tribe of Florida in a statement. “As we work to assist the Shinnecock Indian Nation, we will not hesitate to expand our relief efforts to other entities that need assistance within our emergency management expertise.”

The Shinnecock Indian Nation, which has 1,400 members, experienced flooding of burial grounds and other areas, damage to homes and government buildings, debris and power outages. The Seminole Tribe hopes to help the Shinnecock's recover now and establish an effective emergency response system for the future.

Video: provided by FPL

October 30, 2012

Company says answers about Tampa's flawed nuke plant still months away

Those hoping for an answer by the end of the year on whether the busted Crystal River nuclear plant will be mothballed or repaired will just have to wait some more.

Duke Energy told a state Public Service Commission hearing Tuesday that it may not have a decision until summer 2013 because the company continues to evaluate risks of repairing the broken plant and continues to negotiate with the insurance company about its claim.

Under the terms of a previously negotiated agreement, the continued delays in deciding what to do about the plant mean customers will get a $100 million refund if Duke ultimately decides to repair it. The utility agreed earlier this year that it would provide the refund if it decided to fix the plant but did not begin work by Dec. 31.

Continue reading "Company says answers about Tampa's flawed nuke plant still months away" »

October 17, 2012

State utility advocate sues PSC over FPL's proposed settlement

The lawyer who represents the public in state utility cases on Wednesday sued the Public Service Commission claiming the proposed settlement agreement between Florida Power & Light and the state's largest utility users violates the constitution. Download OPC_Petition_for_Writ

"We feel it is an invalid settlement agreement because our office did not sign onto it,'' Public Counsel J.R. Kelly told the Herald/Times. The petition asks the Florida Supreme Court to halt the efforts of FPL to push through a settlement of its rate case that could cost customers more than its original rate request.

The state's largest utility offered up the deal just days before the Public Service Commission was expected to begin a hearing on its request to raise rates and collect an additional $690 million next year. Kelly and other lawyers representing all ratepayers immediately objected to the plan and urged the PSC to dismiss it, arguing it is a new petition that deserves a separate hearing.

Continue reading "State utility advocate sues PSC over FPL's proposed settlement" »

September 26, 2012

Utility watchdog prez: Florida PSC is 'most dysfunctional' in the South

The executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a non-profit, nonpartisan energy watchdog group based in the Southeastern U.S., spoke out about Gov. Rick Scott's recent reappointment of Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar today at a meeting with The Miami Herald editorial board. He had some harsh criticism.

Edgar's reappointment was "very disappointing,'' said Stephen Smith, the group's director. Of the seven Southeastern states the group works with, he said, "the Florida PSC is the most dysfunctional."

He said that Florida's PSC operates "in lockstep with the companies they are supposed to regulate. We have not seen the Florida PSC this bad in the years I have been involved. I think that is an area where consumers are being poorly served by the appointments on the commission now.

"I think they are largely uninformed about many positions, and they are way too cozy with the companies they are supposed to regulate.''

Smith's organization is suing the state for what it calls the unconstitutional statute passed in 2006 that has allowed Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida to collect millions from customers to build nuclear power plants that may never be constructed. SACE argues that the PSC has allowed the utilities to shift the definition of what is allowed under the law so that they can continue to collect money from customers when the need for nuclear power plants has diminished.

The Florida Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the case Oct. 4.


September 20, 2012

Scott weighs decision to return veteran to PSC or appoint fresh blood

Gov. Rick Scott has until Sunday to decide whether to reappoint the longest serving member of the powerful state utility board, eight-year veteran Lisa Edgar, or go in a new direction.

Scott interviewed Edgar and three other candidates on Tuesday, including Aventura city commissioner Luz Urbaez-Weinberg, Tampa Bay Water official David Polmann and a Ken Littlefield, a former Wesley Chapel state legislator.

"I want somebody that’s going to … make a good decision,’’ Scott told reporters Tuesday before conducting the interviews, which were left off his publicly-released schedule. “We want to keep utility rates as low as possible, but we want to make sure the utilities have the capital to be able to provide the service we all need.”

Edgar, who was first appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004 and reappointed four years later, is seeking a rare third term after eight years of rapid turnover and 16 different commissioners on the panel.

The five-member PSC is in the midst of a controversial $690 million rate case with Florida Power & Light, as the utility has proposed a $1 billion settlement to extend the rate increase over four years. In the coming months, the panel also must decide how much customers will be required to pay to repair of the damaged Crystal River nuclear power plant and make critical decisions relating to energy conservation and investor-own water utilities. Story here.

August 24, 2012

Details emerge about cost of FPL settlement to customer bottom line

State regulators said today they will wait until the completion of Florida Power & Light’s rate case before they officially take up the four-year settlement offer between the company and the state’s largest utility users. 

PSC Chairman Ron Brise said he will announce a schedule for addressing the proposal on Monday. The agreement would set the base rate for FPL’s 4.6 million utility customers between January 2013 and December 2016 and cost customers an estimated $3.4 billion, according to preliminary numbers from the state's consumer advocate.

Preliminary numbers by FPL indicate the rate increase would amount to a net increase of about $4.21 a month by 2016 for the average customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month, said Mike Sole, FPL spokesman. That number could be higher, or lower, if fuel costs shift, however. 

FPL presented the offer last week, just days before two weeks of technical hearings were set to begin before the Public Service Commission on Monday. The proposal was designed to force the commission to consider an alternative to the one-year $690 million base rate increase they are now considering and, in turn, allow the company to avoid coming back to have its earnings reviewed in a full rate case by state regulators for another four years.

The state’s consumer advocate, J.R. Kelly, however, says FPL’s projected numbers for what it would cost the average customer are unreasonably low and wants the PSC to reduce customer costs by $253 million beginning next year.

Continue reading "Details emerge about cost of FPL settlement to customer bottom line" »

August 20, 2012

Regulators start FPL rate case and dust up by allowing settlement talk

Florida’s consumer advocate tried and failed to get state regulators to postpone the hearing on a $690.4 million rate increase request by Florida Power & Light Monday, arguing that a last-minute settlement deal threatens to taint the proceedings.
FPL last week proposed to settle its rate case before the Public Service Commission by agreeing to keep flat or reduce the rates for large industrial users, hospitals, NASA and military operators but raise rates for residential customers and other businesses over the next four years.
The agreement was rejected by the Office of Public Counsel which represents all 4.6 million of FPL’s consumers and opposed by the Florida Retail Federation and AARP, saying it was a bad deal for most of the company’s customers because it would allow for automatic rate increases of up $1 billion over four years. They argued that by allowing the company to discuss the proposal during the two-week long rate case gave the company an unfair ability to introduce new issues that haven't been tested in pre-trial proceedings. 
 “The FPL document is the elephant in the room and we’re asking you to remove that elephant before proceeding,’’ said Charles Rehwinkel, a lawyer with the Office of Public Counsel. 

Continue reading "Regulators start FPL rate case and dust up by allowing settlement talk " »

August 17, 2012

Retailers offer new settlement offer in FPL rate case

The Florida Retail Federation, after publicly rejecting a settlement offered this week by Florida Power & Light, on Friday proposed its own suggestion for the company's $690 million rate case.

The Retail Federation, which represents about 7,000 retailers throughout the state, said the Public Service Commission should delay by six months FPL's rate increase -- thereby assuring most customers lower bills for the first part of next year as lower fuel prices kick in -- but allow the company a partial rate increase beginning in June 2013.

“While FPL would not get the immediate rate increase it had been seeking, the company will continue to enjoy a generous profit and more than enough revenue to continue providing the safe and reliable service we expect,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

The state consumer advocate, J.R. Kelly, director of the Office of Public Counsel, said he was still reviewing the offer but believed "it will be much better received than what FPL has filed."

Continue reading "Retailers offer new settlement offer in FPL rate case" »

August 16, 2012

FPL offers to settle rate case, opponents say deal would cost customers more

Reaction has been blistering to the last minute move by Florida Power & Light to settle its $690 million rate case by offering to cut the cost $138 million next year.

The state's largest utility offered up the deal late Wednesday after reaching an agreement with the state's largest commercial utility users just days before it is expected to begin a rate hearing on Monday, but the lawyers representing all ratepayers said the offer is worse for residential customers than the company's original plan.

"We just flat out don't think it's a good deal for customers,'' said J.R. Kelly, director of the Office of Public Counsel on Thursday. He said the proposal shifts $50 million of utility costs from the large utility users, hospitals and military bases who agreed to the deal and puts it onto residential customers and small businesses.

Continue reading "FPL offers to settle rate case, opponents say deal would cost customers more" »