FPL rate hike round-upby 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.
Tags: Booter Imhof, Charlie Crist, Florida Power & Light, FPL, John Butler, Jon Moyle, Katrina McMurrian, Larry Harris, Matthew Carter, Nancy Argenziano, Natalie Smith, PSC, Public Service Commission, Ryder Rudd