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FPL rate hike round-up

by Dara Kam | September 18th, 2009

Florida Power & Light’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike 13-hour marathon hearing yesterday concluded with one head-injured FPL lawyer, an order for an independent audit of the utility’s corporate jet spending and yet another delay to hear yet more testimony next month.

Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop demanded the audit to check into the Juno Beach-based utility’s fuzzy accounting for VIPs, their wives and guests who flew, some at customers’ expense, to far-flung destinations including Europe, Martha’s Vineyard and Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.

FPL will have spent at least $32.5 million between 2006 and 2009 on the corporate aircraft travel alone, its records show.

“It’s very important to me that the rate payers of FPL are not being allocated costs that are not prudently incurred,” Skop said.

The discussion of the executive’s flights revealed that FPL Chief Financial Officer Armando Pimentel flew to Tallahassee on the corporate jet, earning a rebuke from Jon Moyle, a lawyer for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group that opposes the rate increase.

“Did you have a concern when you decided to take the corporate aircraft up to provide your testimony that that might send a bad signal or a bad message to fly on the corporate aircraft up here to provide testimony to support a $1.5 billion rate increase?” Moyle wanted to know.

Pimentel wasn’t flustered.

“I absolutely did think about that,” he replied. He said he considered his schedule and the uncertainty of how long he would have to stay in Tallahassee for the hearing, which ran until 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and even longer last night.

“I did not know at that point whether I would be back Thursday, today…so taking my schedule and the commission’s schedule into account, I made the decision,” Pimentel answered.

Late last evening, FPL attorney John Butler agreed to the audit, due before the panel meets again on Oct. 21.

The panel won’t make its decision on the rate hike until after the deadline for Gov. Charlie Crist to decide whether to reappoint Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, whose terms end Jan. 1. Crist, who must submit his nominees to a Senate committee for approval next month, had threatened that he would not reappoint them if they voted in favor of the increase. The panel will decide on the amount of the increase on Dec. 21 and the costs for customers on Jan. 11.

At 10:44 p.m. last night, Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, participating in the hearing by telephone because of a knee injury, suggested that the bleary-eyed panel call it a day after spending nearly 13 hours grilling FPL Chief Financial Officer Armando Pimentel.

“I really think this is wrong. 10:44 at night is not a good time for people” to be asking important questions,” Argenziano said as the group prepared to take a five-minute break. “I’m sure everybody there wants to go home.
That’s just not the way to do this. I have strong feelings that we may have pushed it too far or too late.”

By then, Chairman Carter had already gone home after being escorted off the dais by an aide because of back pain caused by two surgeries earlier this year. And Commissioner Lisa Edgar had vacated hours earlier.

In the afternoon, the hearing was temporarily halted after Butler was knocked in the head when Moyle, a 6’4″ former offensive lineman for the University of Florida who towers over Butler, came crashing out of the hearing room.

An ice-pack and butterfly bandage later, the hearing resumed.

The hearing has dragged on under a cloud of suspicion raised by allegations of coziness between the regulators and the utilities they oversee.

Argenziano fired her aide Larry Harris for giving his BlackBerry PIN code to FPL lawyer Natalie Smith and Carter and Edgar suspended theirs with pay until investigations into the communications are complete. The PINs allow users to swap messages without leaving a public record.

The commission is reconsidering its rules on communications in the wake of the PIN debacle and earlier this month Carter banned the use of the secret messages.

Harris was reassigned to a $60,000-a-year job as a senior lawyer in the PSC’s general counsel office, also in a period of transition. General Counsel Booter Imhof quit his job on Friday to go back to work for the Florida House.

And the PSC’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd resigned after an internal investigation into his attendance at a Kentucky Derby party at FPL VP Ed Tancer’s Palm Beach Gardens home.

Also, an intervenor in the case asked that McMurrian be disqualified from the case because she was a panelist at an energy conference and attended a dinner with an FPL executive.

She refused to remove herself from the vote, saying she did not discuss the case and did nothing improper.

McMurrian proposed that all communications between the panel and their staff and the utilities be in writing.

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8 Responses to “FPL rate hike round-up”

  1. Charlie's Friend Says:

    Don’t forget Nancy Argenziano PSC Commisioner co-investor with Muni lobbyist.

    “We do not regulate cities” Nancy

    Below list of regulated city electric and gas utilities from PSC website.

  2. Atique Miah Says:

    The discussion of the executive’s flights revealed that FPL Chief Financial Officer Armando Pimentel flew to Tallahassee on the corporate jet, earning a rebuke from Jon Moyle,…
    Are the FLP corporate jet payed by customer who fall behind on their monthly payment? FPL is requiring “we (FPL) would need two months average billing ($458.00 in my case) to bring your deposit up to date”. Is this legal? Please check. Thanks.. I am like lot of other people struggling to keep up and a addition $458.00 is just plain rip-off!

  3. jupitermom Says:

    I also have two months deposit on file with FPL, yet they do not allow me any leverage with paying the monthly bill – ten days from the due date and they will “shut you off” regardless if you’ve been laid-off, they will make “no” concessions. I have been told by the people in the office of our local community action program that provides government assistance that FPL does not work very well with them either!

  4. A dash of irony Says:

    PSC room kept at chilly 68 degrees as commissioners ponder power rates

    A dash of irony: At the Tallahassee hearing room where state regulators are deciding power rates for millions of Florida Power & Light customers, state officials aren’t too worried about cotting utility costs. The room is absolutely freezing.

    During two days of marathon hearings this week, the room was as cold as 68 degrees — eight degrees lower than the state standard for room temps.

    State buildings are supposed to be set at 76 degrees in the summer, according to a March 2008 memo mandating cost-saving measures on utilities. Buildings are supposed to be 70 degrees in winter.

    The state spent $17.3 million in energy costs last year — about $7 million of which is for heating and cooling, according to the Department of Management Services. Those figures cover 115 facilities managed by DMS, which includes buildings and parking garages.

    In the PSC hearing room, where FPL rate case has been unfolding, room temperature are usually set around 74 degrees, said DMS spokeswoman Linda McDonald. “But it changes based on PSC request and crowd size at a particular meeting. As we all know, when a room fills up with bodies, it usually warms up,” she said.

    PSC officials said they knew the FPL hearings on Wednesday and Thursday were going to last late into the evenings, so they set the A/C on overdrive.

    The current room temperature is 69.7 degrees, but temps ranged from 68 to 72 degrees over the last few days, officials said. The state raised the thermostat this afternoon to 72 degrees, said facilities manager Brian Fienemann.

    A cavernous space with high ceilings and a large public seating area, the PSC meeting room has been mostly empty, save for a few dozen lawyers, FPL reps and three journalists. Body warmth never helped heat things up.

    So, warning to anyone who plans to be at the FPL hearings when they resume Oct. 21: bring a blanket.

  5. FPL to implement $900 million rate hike before PSC vote | Post on Politics Says:

    [...] Florida law allows the utility to implement the rate hike without the regulatory panel’s approval, but FPL would have to refund the difference to customers if the PSC authorizes a smaller increase. The regulatory board’s final decision is now scheduled for Jan. 11 because the rate case has run into overtime. [...]

  6. Sink: FPL $900 million premature rate hike “outrageous” | Post on Politics Says:

    [...] FPL’s rate hearing has dragged on far beyond its originally slated two weeks. The hearing, its first base rate request in more than two decades, has been bogged down in staff firings and suspensions, revelations about coziness between the regulators and the utilities they oversee and secret messages exchanged between PSC staff and FPL lawyer Natalie Smith. [...]

  7. Crist to name utility regulator pick today | Post on Politics Says:

    [...] current regulators put on the panel by Gov. Jeb Bush are up for reappointment as the PSC is mired in controversy over allegations of coziness between the regulatory agency and the utilities it [...]

  8. Crist cleans house at utility reg panel | Post on Politics Says:

    [...] CFO Benjamin “Steve” Stevens and shaking up the status quo at the regulatory panel mired in controversy in the process of deciding on a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate [...]

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