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Will Scott veto energy bill? Read the tea (party) leaves

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Conservative activists called Tuesday for Gov. Rick Scott to veto an energy bill pushed by fellow Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, with critics saying it picks winners and losers by providing tax incentives to wind-, solar- and biofuel companies.

Americans for Prosperity and the Heartland Institute have been spearheading an effort that’s flooded Scott with emails and phone calls opposing HB 7117, which would provide $16 million in renewable energy tax credits next year.

The organizations’ condemn the approach as “crony energy” that builds on millions of dollars in incentives already provided for alternate energy production by the Obama administration, which they also oppose.

“There’s no reason to set us down this path,” said Slade O’Brien, state director for Americans for Prosperity. “I don’t think there are going to be economic benefits. You’re basically going to cost the Florida taxpayer more money for energy….if you’re passing this bill, increasing the energy costs of being in Florida as opposed to being in Georgia, as opposed to being in Alabama…that’s not good business. That’s not smart.”

Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots activist organization, was founded by David and Charles Koch, whose Koch Industries includes oil refineries, energy development and commodities trading. AFP also is a mainstay of the tea party movement, which was a big Scott supporter in his 2010 election.

AFP and the Heartland Institute’s opposition creates some tricky crosswinds for Scott.

Putnam, a former congressman, is seen as a future Republican candidate for governor — maybe even a 2014 primary opponent for Scott.  Putnam has been a strong proponent of energy diversity, which draws support from the state’s agricultural industry, already invested in biofuel production.

In another twist, the energy bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, had been AFP’s ‘legislator of the year’ last year.

O’Brien offered no apologies.

“We’re equal opportunity complainers when things aren’t right,” O’Brien said.

 

Oil spill update: $25M from BP, Brogan sets up academic task force

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The novelty of the massive oil spill in the Gulf coupled with inclement weather is posing a challenge for one of the nation’s most renowned emergency operations units.

Florida’s emergency management division, considered a model for the rest of the nation, has a long history of preparing for and responding to natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

But the mammoth surface spill and incessant pumping of up to 210,000 gallons per day of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico is an unaccustomed catastrophe, more unpredictable than the “skinny lines” meteorologists use to predict where hurricanes might land.

“As you’ve all seen the trajectory, this oil spill continues to go back east, west, north, south. This is going to be the pattern for the rest of the spill duration. I want you all to know that,” Department of Environmental Protection emergency response director Doug White.
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Crist to meet with Gulf Coast guvs, Obama officials and tour oil leak HQ

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist will check out the oil leak command post in Mobile tomorrow morning before meeting with the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama and a contingent of President Barack Obama administration officials.

Crist is scheduled to start off his day at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center before heading to the Mobile Unified Command center, ground zero for federal, state and BP officials managing what could be the nation’s worst oil spill. En route to Alabama, he’ll fly over the oil leak and finish up with a meeting with the his fellow governors.

Crist expressed earlier today dissatisfaction with the petroleum giant’s response to the disaster.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink spoke even more strongly about the “confusion” she encountered at the command headquarters in Mobile.

Attorney General Bill McCollum vowed there will be litigation over the rapidly-growing leak.

All three Florida politicos are running for higher office: newly-independent Crist for U.S. Senate, Sink as the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor and McCollum the frontrunner in the GOP primary for governor.

‘Daunting’ oil spill will wind up in court, AG says; BP pledges to pick up tab

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida officials are ramping up preparation for the massive oil spill looming off the state’s Panhandle coastline.

“The magnitude of this spill is daunting,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said at a press conference early this morning.

oil-locationsAttorney General Bill McCollum warned Floridians not to sign anything releasing BP or other companies associated with the oil leak and to ignore “scammers” who promise to clean up affected areas.

“There is a great concern on our part with people who may go out in advance of any oil coming at all and try to get some hold harmeless agreement, either BP or some other potentially liable party,” McCollum said. “We also don’t’ want anybody to get ripped off by scam artists.”

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Senate signs off on Crist PSC picks – for now

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee gave a preliminary nod to Gov. Charlie Crist’s two latest picks for the Public Service Commission, David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens.

But, judging from the questions and comments at this morning’s hearings, the new utility regulators who helped kill two proposed rate hikes – including Florida Power & Light Co.’s requested $1.2 billion increase – have a ways to go.

“This is the first step in a very long process,” said chairman Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

The committee gave the pair a preliminary nod with an 8-1 vote. Sen. Chris Smith, a black Democrat from Ft. Lauderdale, voted against the appointees because, he said, there are no minorities on the panel.

Sens. Mike Haridopolos and Joe Negron peppered the pair with questions that mirrored the investor-owned utilities dissatisfaction with the regulators that turned down nearly $2 billion in proposed rate increases since they joined the panel this year.

Negron asked Stevens, a Pensacola bar owner and accountant, about the regulator’s statements during a January hearing in which Stevens said he would oppose a rate increase in the future.

Negron, a Republican lawyer from Stuart, wanted to know if Stevens has already made up his mind about future votes.

“I’m not predisposed. I’m open-minded but I do recognize that I’ve got technical guys here, technical guys there and they’re very smart and we have to make a decision,” Stevens said.

Haridopolos was even more pointed. He said that the PSC’s refusal to grant the rate hikes has made it harder and more expensive for the utilities to borrow money.

Haridopolos also grilled both regulators on whether they feel pressure from Crist to vote a certain way after Crist threatened to fire any commissioners who supported the rate hikes.

“We expect you to call balls and strikes. And we expect not to hear about the legislature should do this or that. We expect you to do your job. We move away from the obvious politics that are being played,” Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, said. Lawmakers want commissioners “who don’t care what the governor thinks, don’t care what the legislature thinks, and look at the long term view,” he went on.

“I will take the long-term view,” Stevens assured him.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee must vote on the appointees before a full Senate vote.

PBC Commish Koons wanted FPL rate hike

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons asked utility regulators to approve Florida Power & Light Co.’s $1.2 billion rate hike, saying the utility is the county’s largest employer and needed the extra money to help the state go green.

The Public Service Commission yesterday instead slashed FPL’s rate hike to just $75 million and limited the amount of profit the Juno Beach-based utility can earn to 10 percent, far less than the 12.5 percent return on equity it sought.

“While no one – especially in the current economy – looks forward to higher electric bills, FPL’s proposed rate increase is necessary in order to make a greater investment in green technology, energy sources that will ultimately protect the consumer from uncertainties and bill fluctuations in the future,” Koons wrote in a letter to commissioners on Jan. 5 expressing his personal opinion on the rate case.

FPL President Armando Olivera said the company will immediately halt modernization projects at its Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral power plants and cease moving forward with most of its efforts to build two new nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point facility.

He said the projects could have brought 20,000 new jobs to Florida over the next five years.

FPL prez: ‘Politics trumped economics’

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. President Armando Olivera accused utility reagulators risking customers’ electrical service by slashing Florida Power & Light’s requested $1.2 billion rate increase by at least 90 percent.

“Today, politics trumped economics,” Olivera told reporters as he left the meeting still in progress at about 6:15 to return to South Florida on the corporate jet.

Olivera said the Juno Beach-based utility will immediately cease modernization efforts at its Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral plants and halt work on a new nuclear plant that would have put 20,000 workers on the job this year.

The commission decided to limit FPL’s profits to 10 percent – far less than the 12.5 percent the company sought. Commissioner Nathan Skop said that FPL’s proposal was based more on a desire to increase cash flow than on substance.

That return on equity could be bad for the state’s largest utility’s 4 million customers, Olivera said.

“It’s conceivable our reliability will be impacted,” he said.

Olivera said the panel’s votes on more than 100 items today – still underway – coupled with a denial of Progress Energy Florida’s $500 million rate hike request Monday “sends a chilling effect on anybody who wants to invest in this state.”

Olivera said it’s too soon to say whether any of the utility’s 10,499 workers will be laid off but that “we’re going to be looking at every aspect of our operation.” He said that information would be revealed to employees before anyone else.

“The most immediate thing is not to spend money we don’t have,” Olivera said.

Utility regulator blasts FPL $1.2 billion rate hike request

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop took a swipe at Florida Power & Light for requesting a $1.2 billion-a-year rate hike before the utility regulators broke for lunch.

“This rate case seems to be more about improving cash flow from operations and discretionary expenditures than substance,” Skop said.

“That’s clearly indicated by the substantial adjustments” PSC staff made to FPL’s request, Skop said. PSC staff suggested the Juno Beach-based utility be granted just $357 million of the $1 billion it asked for this year.

On Monday, the PSC denied any of Progress Energy Florida’s requested $500 million rate hike, going even lower than the staff’s recommendation of about $50 million.

And things aren’t going so well for FPL so far this morning. The panel turned down its request for a second year rate hike of about $300 million and discontinued its ability to make adjustments in the base rate without the PSC’s approval, taking about another $180 million off the table.

The most contentious part of FPL’s request is up for discussion after the panel, headed by consumer-friendly Chairman Nancy Argenziano, returns in about an hour.

That’s its return on equity – how much profit the state’s largest utility should be allowed to earn – and how much of that its customers should pay for.

FPL wants a 12.5 percent ROE, almost a 2 percent jump from what it’s currently earning.

FPL contends it needs the higher profits to be able to borrow more cheaply in the future and to invest in future projects.

“In the midst of our rate proceeding, our ROE was 10.7% (May 2009) and since that time our ability to earn a fair rate of return on equity has continued to deteriorate. Our position is that the Commission should authorize 12.5% as the return on common equity. Granting FPL’s requested return on equity will appropriately take into account overall utility industry risks, as well as FPL’s need to invest $16 billion (investments) to provide service over the next five years. Granting FPL’s common ROE is critical to maintaining FPL’s financial strength and flexibility and will help FPL attract the large amounts of capital that are needed to service its customers,” FPL spokesman Mayco Villafana said in an e-mail this morning.

Utility regulators start turning down FPL

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Utility regulators began today’s proceedings on Florida Power & Light’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike by saying “no” to two important items included in the 100-plus decisions related to the request.

The Public Service Commission refused to include a second year, 2011, in the Juno Beach-based utility’s proposal, knocking about $300 million off the rate hike request.

FPL was seeking a two-year increment in its base rate, about $1 million this year and $300 million next year.

Regulators said there is too much volatility in fuel prices and the banking industry to predict what will happen that far in the future.

The panel also turned down FPL’s request to continue making automatic adjustments in customers’ base rates when new plants or equipment other than solar or nuclear come on line. They said that gives the company too much leeway without oversight. A separate provision allows utilities to recoup construction costs for solar or nuclear plants outside of the base rate.

Still up for discussion: how much profit the state’s largest utility should be allowed to earn.

FPL President Armando Olivera is at the meeting.

FPL rate hike case kicks off

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Public Service Commission will spend the day deciding on how much – if any – Florida Power & Light Co. deserves of the $1.2 billion rate hike it seeks.

Today’s proceeding, expected to last until this evening, began with a discussion from Commissioner Nathan Skop about the Juno Beach-based utility’s requested 12.5 percent return on equity – profitability to shareholders – and how much money that would require for customers to pay.

Watching the debate today are a group of AARP seniors who traveled to Tallahassee from Daytona Beach. AARP opposes the rate hike.

New utility reg chairwoman says big changes not likely

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano began her first day as head of the utility regulatory panel by suggesting that her colleagues conduct themselves like judges.

Argenziano, a former state legislator, took over as chairwoman this morning and Panhandle accountant Benjamin “Steve” Stevens was sworn in as the newest commissioner as the panel prepares to vote on nearly $2 billion in power rate hikes next week.

Argenziano kicked off this morning’s meeting by handing out the code of judicial conduct to the other four members of the PSC in an effort to place more distance between the commissioners and their staff and the utilities they oversee.

She wants all communications placed in writing and entered into the public record in cases pending before the PSC.

The quasi-judicial panel is considering imposing changes to its own ethical standards while awaiting possible legislative changes to how the commission operates regarding communications between the utilities and the PSC.

But Argenziano, a Republican from Dunedin appointed to the PSC by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, wants broader changes in the way potential commissioners are selected by a committee comprised largely of legislators. Those suggestions are then given to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Argenziano objects to the legislature’s influence on the selections because, she says, House and Senate leaders are dependent on campaign contributions from the utilities.

She wants the panel to become part of the court system and have commissioners appointed by either the Cabinet or the attorney general or a smaller group that would be more accountable to consumers, she said.

But lawmakers are unlikely to cede their power over the PSC, Argenziano admitted.

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Former PSC lawyer goes back to the legislature

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission’s former general counsel Booter Imhof, who resigned after less than a year on the job during the fray over a proposed $1.2 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike, is now heading a Senate committee dealing with other regulated businesses.

Imhof will take over as staff director for the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Jan. 1, according to an e-mail distributed in the Senate this morning.

Imhof’s a familiar face in both chambers – he served in the same role in both the House and Senate committees.

Utility regulators are expected to make a decision on Imhof’s replacement soon.

At the top of the list: Curt Kiser, a long-time Republican who once served in the state Senate and who sat on the Public Service Commission Nominating Council for 17 years; Mike Twomey, a former PSC lawyer who later lobbied for AARP; and Bonnie Davis, a Tallahassee lawyer who represents utilities.

Utility regulators deal blow to FPL

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Florida Public Service Commission created what could be yet another public relations nightmare for the state’s largest utility yesterday.

Utility regulators ordered Florida Power & Light Co. to refund $364.8 million in fuel surcharges in a one-time payment to customers because of a drop in fuel prices.

The refunds are normally spread out over one year.

But Commissioner Nathan Skop wanted customers to get the one-time break.

As a result, FPL customers’ January bills will be about $44 cheaper as a result of yesterday’s decision.

But the next month the bills will go back up, leading to instability for customers, FPL argues.

They want customers’ bills to be consistent from month to month so residents and businesses can plan for their utility expenses.

The power company also likely wants to avoid the fallout from the sticker-shock of a bill going up $44 from one month to the next.

“While today’s action was outside the normal process for dealing with these variations, we’re happy to be able to help customers, particularly in these difficult times. Moreover, 2010 bills will be going down as a result of greater fuel efficiencies and lower fuel costs even with the full impact of our rate request. That’s good news for customers since it combines lower bills with greater investment in making the electrical infrastructure stronger, smarter, cleaner and even more fuel efficient,” FPL said in a statement yesterday.

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FPL $1.2 billion rate case will wrap up today

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Read the story from The Palm Beach Post on here

Enough already.

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter pronounced that Florida Power & Light Co.’s prolonged $1.2 billion rate hike case will wrap up tonight. Period.

“We will finish tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” Carter said before adjourning for lunch.

“Everything that needs to be said has pretty much been said. How many more times can you say the same thing?” Carter told The Palm Beach Post shortly after the lunch break began.

Expect some fireworks when the hearing resumes at 2:30.

FPL Group Controller Mike Davis is going to get a grilling on the utility’s proposal to charge customers $3.7 million of the $5 million it estimates it will spend to persuade the PSC to grant its rate hike.

Some of the expenses incurred so far include $1.4 million for consultants, $450,996 for legal services, $214,632 for lodging and $143,232 for meals over a nearly two-year period.

Carter can’t be blamed for wanting the FPL case, sidetracked by what he called “shenanigans” over allegations of conflicts of interest, to come to a halt.

He was absent yesterday because of complications from two back surgeries he’s had this year.

Carter’s got a little more than two months left in his term after Gov. Charlie Crist passed him over for reappointment earlier this month.

The panel will come back at 2:30, a half hour before the newest regulator, David Klement, is sworn in in Sarasota.

Klement, a former newspaper editorial writer, will be in Tallahassee on Tuesday to vote on whether the PSC should decide on FPL’s rate case this year or wait until another new Crist appointee – Pensacola accountant and bar owner/manager Benjamin “Steve” Stevens – joins the PSC on Jan. 1.

FPL last-minute gotcha on $1.2 billion rate hike opponents

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission and opponents of Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike grilled the utility’s officials about stacking the deck at customer service hearings throughout the day and into the evening yesterday.

FPL Customer Service VP Marlene Santos conceded that the Juno Beach-based utility methodically rounded up dozens of commercial customers – many of whom were recipients of FPL’s charitable gifts – to attend the hearings to tell regulators how great FPL is and that the company deserves the boost.

But just before the hearing ended around 7:30 p.m., FPL lawyers produced documents showing that their opponents employed the same tactics.

Acting Chairwoman Lisa Edgar allowed the last-minute filings over the objections of rate hike opponents.

“We urge you to attend the hearing in your area and speak out against FPL’s requests,” read a June e-mail from the Florida Retail Federation to its members. AARP’s Florida director urged the same of that group’s members in an August article on the group’s Web site.

Today’s hearing kicked off on time at 9:30 but it’s unclear if it will finish up on time late this evening as scheduled.

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Five FPL execs earned more than $1 million in 2008; one earned $7.5 million-plus

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Five Florida Power & Light Co. executives brought in more than $1 million in 2008, an FPL official testified today.

FPL Director of Compensation Kathleen Slattery told the Public Service Commission that three of the utility’s highest paid executives earned $3 million each that year and paid its top earner $10 million, $7.5 million of which was picked up by FPL.

FPL’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike case started back up this morning, the same day the Juno Beach-based utility took out three-quarter page ads in The Palm Beach Post and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“In January, the lowest bill in the state will go even lower,” the headline on the advertisements reads.

Below that, a bar chart shows residential rates for a 1000 kilowatt hour bill for 32 companies.

The ad shows FPL’s projected December bill as the lowest at $110.72, and dipping lower to $101.76 in January 2010.

More PSC sniping as FPL pipeline decision nears

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Here’s the latest installment in the seemingly perpetual Public Service Commission drama.

Sen. Mike Fasano today shot back at Associated Industries of Florida president Barney Bishop who yesterday publicly accused Fasano of interfering in the utility regulators’ business as the PSC considers three cases that could collectively cost Floridians up to $3 billion a year in extra energy costs.

Fasano yesterday asked Commissioner Lisa Edgar to resign because of an ethics complaint about her communicating with an FPL executive during a hearing. The ethics commission found no probable cause that Edgar, reappointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to the PSC last year, did anything wrong.

AIF supports Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike, and yesterday evening Bishop called out Fasano by name for trying to influence the outcome of that case and a proposed $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate increase.

“Any attempt by anyone to influence “due process”, whether they are an elected official or not, is inappropriate,” Bishop said in a statement.

That got to Fasano, who issued a statement demanding his own due process.

“Barney Bishop is a highly paid representative for utility companies throughout Florida. Mr. Bishop states that I am interfering in the due process that Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light are entitled to as the Florida Public Service Commission considers billion dollar rate increase requests. As anyone versed in the most elemental aspects of law should know, due process entitles one to face his or her accuser. Since Mr. Bishop, and Associated Industries of Florida, has stated that my involvement in this case is inappropriate, I challenge Mr. Bishop to publicly debate me on this issue,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote.
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Utility regulators to decide on delaying FPL $1.5 billion rate hike in 3 weeks

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission will decide whether to give in to Gov. Charlie Crist’s request to put off about $2 billion in utility rate increases later this month.

Crist asked the panel to postpone hearings considering Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion base rate hike and Progress Energy Florida’s $500 million similar request until next his two new PSC appointees come on board on Jan. 1.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter, whom Crist passed over for reappointment last week, told Crist in a letter sent this morning that the panel would discuss his request at its next publicly noticed meeting on Oct. 27.

“To avoid claims of violation of due process, the parties to both dockets should be permitted to address your request,” Carter wrote based on the recommendation of PSC attorney Mary Anne Helton.

The PSC is right now preparing to vote on a $1.5 billion FPL natural gas pipeline. The cost for the pipeline would also be added into FPL customers’ base rate, but Crist did not ask for a delay on that vote.

The FPL vote on the base rate hike is scheduled for Dec. 21 and the Progress Energy vote is slated for Nov. 21.

Crist may lack authority to halt FPL rate case

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission lawyers are checking into whether Gov. Charlie Crist has any standing in asking for a temporary halt to two utility rate cases until his two new regulatory commissioners take over on Jan. 1.

Crist this morning asked Chairman Matthew Carter, one of the two current commissioners whom Crist passed over for reappointment, to delay the Florida Power & Light Co. $1.3 billion rate hike hearing and the Progress Energy Florida $500 million request until David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens take over.

Carter ordered his legal staff to figure out how to handle the governor’s request because he is not one of the intervenors in the case and may have no legal standing to ask for a delay.

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Crist asks utility regulators to hold off on FPL rate case

Friday, October 2nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is trying to put the brakes on two pending utility rate cases until his new appointees take office on Jan. 1.

Crist today asked the Public Service Commission to postpone any further hearings or decision on a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light rate hike and a $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate increase request.

Yesterday he named former newspaper editorial writer David Klement and Pensacola bar owner and accountant Benjamin “Steve” Stevens to the five-member panel that oversees the state’s public utilities.

The two will replace current PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, whose terms end Dec. 31.

The PSC has been plagued by conflict of interest accusations for the past several months as the rate cases have progressed.

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