Where are the BlackBerries?by Dara Kam | September 16th, 2009
The Florida Power & Light Co. $1.3 billion rate hike hearing is droning on this morning as opponents to the increase grilled the utility’s expert witness Bill Avera on projected earnings and credit issues.
FPL reps sit in the audience, as they have each day of the hearing now more than a week into overtime above its planned one-week schedule.
But noticeably absent from the FPL pack is what until today had been their constant companions: BlackBerries.
Not only are their communication devices tucked away, their ever-present laptops sit idly inside their cases.
The change is likely due to the firestorm of controversy over secret messages called PINs exchanged between FPL attorney Natalie Smith and several of the commissioners aides. Critics fear Smith may have communicated with the aides during the hearings about the rate case under discussion.
FPL spokesman Mayco Villafana had this to say on the issue in an e-mail:
“Regarding pin communications what I can tell you is that Natalie Smith has never communicated via PIN with Commissioner Edgar or any other commissioner. With respect to PIN communications in general, these Blackberry-based text messages are not unusual nor any different than any other form of communication that isn’t paper-based such as a telephone call. In addition to those individuals you have cited, Natalie also has a PIN, for example, for Commissioner Argenziano’s chief advisor and had one for Commissioner Skop’s former chief advisor. Communication with staff members is a normal and appropriate part of the regulatory process in which all parties to any proceeding or issue regularly engage.”
Nancy Argenziano fired her aide Larry Williams for giving his PIN number to Smith. PSC Chairman Matthew Carter banned the commissioners and staff from using PINs or other types of messaging that don’t leave a public record.
He and Commissioner Lisa Edgar put their aides on paid leave indefinitely until a review of the PINs is complete. The panel is now considering requiring all communications between the PSC and the utilities be in writing.