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.

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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.

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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. 

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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."

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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.

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August 07, 2012

Rick Scott on FPL rate hike: not my issue

Gov. Rick Scott appeared last weekend at the RedState 2012 gathering in Jacksonville and proclaimed to the conservative crowd there that "anything that comes out of your pocket I want to reduce. I want to reduce every fee and tax I can."

Does that include utility bills? The state's largest electric company, Florida Power & Light, for example, is seeking a base rate increase of $5.23 per month beginning next year on a 1,000 kilowatt hour monthly bill for residential customers. The rate case begins this month. 

Scott, whose job it is to appoint the commissioners to the PSC and whose political committee accepted a $250,000 check from FPL on June 4, answered: “That’s a totally different issue. What I’m focused on is if we can control the cost of government. If we can make sure we leave as much money in a family’s pocket (so) they can afford -- whether it's the house, the apartment, their car -- things like that."

He will be asked later this year to appoint a commissioner for the post now held by Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who is also seeking a third term.

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July 31, 2012

PSC Commissioner Lisa Edgar makes short list for a third term

From the News Service of Florida:

Eight candidates have made the cut and will be interviewed to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Florida Public Service Commission, according to a short list released Tuesday by a state PSC nominating council.

PSC member Lisa Edgar, whose expiring term will create the vacancy Jan. 1, is among the candidates on the list. Edgar, who joined the PSC in 2005, was among 23 candidates who applied for the $130,000-a-year job, The PSC regulates a host of utilities including electric-power producers, water suppliers and telecommunications firms.

Also making the cut was Ken Littlefield, a Republican House member from 1999 to 2006 who was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to a PSC term that started in January 2007. Littlefield's tenure was brief, as Bush's successor, Charlie Crist, appointed someone else to serve on the five-member panel shortly after taking office.

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February 22, 2012

Latvala and Gardiner sing Kumbaya

After a morning meeting over coffee at a Tallahassee Panera's, rival Senate president candidates Andy Gardiner and Jack Latvala said Wednesday they and their supporters have found harmony despite a failed attempt on Tuesday by three of the Senate's most powerful leaders to oust both of them from their campaign for president.

"What happened on Tuesday was one of the low points of anything I have observed in my 40-year political career in Florida,'' Latvala told the Herald/Times Wednesday. "You don't treat your friends that way. Andy Gardiner is a good, decent man. He doesn't deserve to be treated that way."

He was referring to a meeting called  by Sens. John Thrasher and Joe Negron with at least six of Gardiner's supporters, asking each of them to sign a pledge card supporting Thrasher for Senate president in 2014 and Negron in 2016.

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