$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing kicks off with questions about corporate flightsby Dara Kam | October 21st, 2009
The Public Service Commission resumed a prolonged hearing on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike this morning with disagreements over the utility’s corporate jets.
Testimony is expected to go through 8 p.m. tonight and finish up on Friday.
FPL Group Chief Financial Officer Armando Pimentel sat patiently as the hearing started just before 10 a.m. as both sides argued about accounting for plane flights.
Opponents of the increase questioned how the Juno Beach-based power company’s allocated charges for the jets and helicopters. They want to know whether customers are paying to ferry FPL executives, their wives and guests to destinations including Napa Valley and Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.
The hearings have gone on intermittently since August under a cloud of suspicion about possible conflicts of interest.
It’s not the first time the regulatory agency has been rocked by allegations of close ties with the utilities.
In 1992, a statewide grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing at the PSC but made a number of recommendations to put more distance between the regulators and the utilities they oversee.
Lawmakers ignored most of them, including a suggestion limiting communications between regulators or their staff and the utilities – the same source of contention clouding BlackBerry PIN message exchanges today.
The legislature did pass one of the recommendations, pushed by former state lawmaker Curt Kiser, now in the running to go to work at the PSC as its chief lawyer.
The new law made it illegal for commissioners from going to work for the utilities for at least two years after leaving the panel.
That came after PSC members Thomas Beard and Michael Wilson took skip trips, played golf and stayed at high-priced hospitality suites on the utility companies’ dime. Wilson quit the panel in 1992 and immediately went to work for FPL.
Beard was involved in a number of romances with Southern Bell workers before resigning from the panel and marrying one of them, prompting the PSC to create rules establishing codes of conduct regarding members dating utility employees.
In 1973, an attorney for a utility slipped a legal memo pertaining to a case to Florida Supreme Court Justice Joe Boyd. Boyd said he eventually tore up the note and flushed it down the toilet. He was later retained and went on to become chief judge and serve for 14 more years.