$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing goes on and on and on…by Dara Kam | October 19th, 2009
Utility regulators have added an extra day to hear testimony in the $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike case.
The base rate case is already into overtime and is running long past the original two weeks scheduled for early August, including several back-to-back 12-plus hour days of testimony.
The Public Service Commission was slated to finish the hearings on Wednesday and Thursday but this morning added Friday to the schedule.
Only four commissioners remain on the regulatory panel – former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian walked off the $133,000 a year job recently after Gov. Charlie Crist effectively fired her and Chairman Matthew Carter and appointed two new members who will take over on Jan. 1.
The Juno Beach-based utility’s rate case and Progress Energy Florida’s proposed $500 million base rate increase is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the agency that heretofore operated with little public interest.
Controversy over BlackBerry PIN messages exchanged by commissioners and their staff with an FPL lobbyist and attorney and other allegations of potential conflict of interst resulted in Commissioner Nancy Argenziano “firing” aide Larry Williams, who was reassigned to a job as an attorney in the agency’s general counsel office, two other aides being suspended and McMurrian quitting her post with about three months left in her term. General Counsel Booter Emhof also recently resigned his job and went back to work for the Florida House where he’d served for more than two decades before joining the PSC.
Critics have filed several ethics complaints against the commissioners, including Argenziano who is expected to chair the panel next year.
Gov. Charlie Crist and other elected officials have weighed in publicly on the cases, demanding that the hearings be put on hold until the new panel convenes next year.
Chairman Carter scheduled a decision on whether to delay the FPL case for next week – after the PSC takes up the case for three days this week.
Carter, who put his aide on paid leave pending investigations into the PINs, has had enough of what he called the sideline “shenanigans.”
“The sideshow just distracts from us doing our jobs. People should just leave us alone and let us go and do our jobs,” Carter said Friday.
The cases have also pitted historically aligned business groups on opposing sides.
Associated Industries of Florida, a business-backed political group based in Tallahassee, is an intervenor in the case in support of FPL’s requested rate hike.
A frustrated AIF President Barney Bishop last week posted thousands of BlackBerry messages on his website and called for an internal investigation of Argenziano, accusing her of impartiality and conduct unbecoming a commissioner.
On the other side, the Florida Retail Federation is one of the many groups fighting the increase.