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More studying, fewer Bladder Busts for Crist PSC appointee?

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

bladderCould Gov. Charlie Crist’s Public Service Commission appointee be trying to distance himself from the perception he’s actively involved in managing a bar where they offer “Free Beer Til Someone Pees” at “Bladder Bust” night every Tuesday? Where a flier reads, “Don’t Die Sober on Friday 13th”?

friday13thspecialcopyCaught at his home in Pensacola today, Benjamin “Steve” Stevens corrected a Post on Politics reporter’s question about Rick’s Cabana Nightclub to say he wasn’t a manager, he was a co-owner.

A little later, when Post on Politics asked a bartender at Rick’s for the manager, she asked, “Oh, Steve?” and dialed Stevens up.

Stevens continued to insist he was not the manager, saying that there was a day manager and a night manager and the day manager was out of town.

His main interest in the liquor store and lounge operations is the building itself, he implied.

“It’s a commercial real estate investment,” he said. “It’s being treated like that right now. Otherwise I’d be there 24/7.”

Stevens, 44, was Escambia County Sheriff’s Office chief financial officer until January, when newly-elected Sheriff David Morgan took office and brought a new management team in. According to his application papers for the PSC position, he hasn’t worked for anyone else since then.

His real estate/accounting office is across the street from the club and package store where a bar employee says he is a regular presence.


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.


Vote on FPL’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike put off until January

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist got his way with the Public Service Commission today after the panel decided to delay a vote on FPL’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike until next year.

Regulators voted unanimously to delay a decision on FPL’s rate hike, originally scheduled for Dec. 21, until Jan. 13.

Regulators rejected their staff’s recommendation that they vote on the rate hikes this year as originally planned to comply with state law.

Instead, they agreed to vote on the amount of FPL’s rate hike on Jan. 13 and Progress Energy’s on Jan. 11.

The votes on the breakdown of the rates among different classes of customers will come on Jan. 28 for Progress and Jan. 29 for FPL.

Crist asked the commission to defer the vote on FPL’s rate case and Progress Energy Florida’s proposed $500 million rate increase until after his two new panelists take office on Jan. 1.

One of Crist’s new commissioners, David Klement, got an early start at the PSC in time to participate in today’s crucial vote.

Klement, a former newspaper editorial writer, was sworn in on Friday to fill in for former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, who quit her job earlier this month after Crist failed to reappoint her to a second term.

UPDATE: PSC Chairman: Enough about Wall Street

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter apparently heard enough about the financial community’s worries about regulators’ decision on FPL’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike.

Florida Power & Light Co. lawyer John Butler urged the PSC to push on with a scheduled December vote on the rate increase even after the panelists indicated they were going to give in to Gov. Charlie Crist’s demand to defer the decision.

FPL officials testified repeatedly that the Juno Beach-based utility needs the rate hike in part because Wall Street is closely watching the outcome of the case and a rejection of the increase could affect their ability to borrow.

As the panel prepared to approve delaying the FPL vote until next year, Carter, a former financial analyst and lawyer, took his second swipe at Wall Street.

“I think we make too much ado about what Wall Street will do and what wall street wants,” he said.

“This is the worst economic time in our country since the Great Depression,” Carter said.

Banks and financial institutions received $1.5 trillion in government bail-outs, some of it going to pad executives salaries, Carter went on.

“That’s a lot of money. That went to Wall Street firms and banks. That came from the taxpayers. That money was given to them by the government to stimulate the economy not to enrich themselves and all,” he said.

“I’m not beating up on Wall Street but I’m not buying the doom and gloom either.”

Earlier, FPL lawyer Butler said that a delay could further frighten investors who are already leery about the changing regulatory climate in Florida, once utility-friendly and now appearing to lean more to consumers thanks to Crist’s appointees.

Regulators poised to put off $1.2 billion FPL rate hike vote

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission is poised to give in to Gov. Charlie Crist’s demand to delay votes on the state’s two largest utilities’ cumulative $1.7 billion rate hike requests.

The regulators have not yet voted on the delay but at least three of the five panelists have said they support putting off the vote until after Jan. 1 when Crist’s new appointees will join the PSC.

Commissioner David Klement, appointed by Crist earlier this month and sworn in on Friday, urged the panel to postpone the vote until Crist’s other appointee, Benjamin “Steve” Stevens,” takes office after Jan. 1.

Votes on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion base rate hike and Progress Energy Florida’s $500 million requested rate increase were originally slated to come this year.

But Crist asked the panel to hold off on the votes after he effectively fired two commissioners, including Chairman Matthew Carter, whose terms end on Dec. 31.

Klement began discussion of the postponements by noting that he would have to review 9,699 pages of documents, 829 pages of exhibits and view 23 days of videotaped testimony.

“I know there’s a lot riding on this decision today.
I’m aware that the governor wants those matters to be delayed…I’m aware that this matter is now entangled in politics, which is unfortante for all the parties concerned,” Klement said.


Vote on FPL vote kicks off with new commissioner

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission began its 9:30 a.m. meeting on time by welcoming Commissioner David Klement, appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist and sworn in last week.

Klement is a former newspaper editorial writer with more than four decades of experience in journalism.

Klement joins the PSC in time for a crucial vote this morning on whether to postpone decisions on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike and Progress Energy Florida’s requested $500 million rate increase.

“I just promise to do my best and to live up to the things that I said on my oath on Friday to represent the people of Florida and the companies and all the stakeholders in these matters,” Klement said after being welcomed to the PSC by his colleagues.

PSC staff recommend that the panel move ahead with the votes this year as scheduled to comply with state law that lays out a timeline by which regulators must vote.

Crist wants the panel to delay voting on the issues until after the first of the year, when his two new appointees – Klement and Panhandle accountant and bar owner/manager Benjamin “Steve” Stevens – take office.

Klement got an early jump on the post because he’s filling in for former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, who quit earlier this month after Crist bypassed her for reappointment.

Obama to unveil $3.4 billion in “smart grid” grants today in Florida, including $200 million to FPL

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 by George Bennett

Obama will visit this solar facility in DeSoto County today

Obama will visit this solar facility in DeSoto County today

ARCADIA — Using a large Florida Power & Light solar energy facility outside this small town as a backdrop, President Obama today will announce $3.4 billion in federal grants to 100 different “smart grid” energy projects around the U.S.

The Obama administration says the grants, which are part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package approved this year, will create or save “tens of thousands” of jobs while making the nation’s electricity network more reliable and efficient and more compatible with renewable energy sources.

FPL is getting a $200 million grant for its program of technological upgrades that include installing more than 2.6 million “smart meters” in homes to provide more detailed consumption information to customers and enable them to reduce energy use and cut their bills.

Obama will tour FPL’s $152 million Next Generation Solar Energy Center, billed as the largest solar farm of its kind with 90,000 photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight to energy on 180 acres in DeSoto County. The solar center produces 25 megawatts of power, or enough to supply about 3,000 homes. By comparison, FPL’s gas- and oil-fired plant in Riviera Beach plant provides energy for 190,000 homes.


Former utility regulator defends FPL’s $1.2 billion rate hike request

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

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

The last day of Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike hearing is winding down late as its final expert gets grilled over the biggest sources of contention in the case – depreciation and how much profit the company should be allowed.

FPL consultant Terry Deason, who served 16 years on the Public Service Commission, spent hours answering questions about an agreement he was part of in 2002 that, opponents say, wound up costing costing customers at least $1.25 billion than it should have.

FPL is paying Deason, a registered lobbyist who represents four of the state’s investor-owned utilities including FPL, $400 per hour to testify and $295 per hour for his advice.

Deason was a commissioner when the PSC agreed to allow FPL to collect $125 million a year from customers for depreciation expenses.

Since then, FPL’s own study found the company has collected at least $1.25 billion more than it should have.

The state’s consumer advocate believes that amount should be $2.7 billion.

The PSC signed off on the agreement at the time, Deason said, because it was unknown if Florida would deregulate utilities.

That never happened, but the 2002 agreement and another in 2005 set the depreciation rates in stone and deviated from normal accounting practices which would have spread out the costs over the lifetime of the equipment.

That’s what the Juno Beach-based company wants to do now, over the objections of the state’s consumer advocate.


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.


Crist puts former editorial writer on utility reg panel

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed former newspaperman David Klement to fill a vacancy on the Public Service Commission.

Klement fills a vacancy created when former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian quit after Crist passed her over for reappointment.

Klement’s getting a jump on the $133,000 a year job – Crist had already picked him and Pensacola accountant and bar owner/manager Benjamin “Steve” Stevens to the panel. Their terms are set to begin Jan. 1.

Klement will be on the five-member panel in time to vote next week on whether the PSC should postpone a vote on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike and a similar $500 million increase sought by Progress Energy Florida.

Crist asked that the panel hold off on the hearings and the votes on the rate cases until his new regulators are ensconced next year. But the PSC resumed the FPL case yesterday and is slated to finish up with it late tomorrow.

Klement spent more than four decades as a newspaperman and now heads the Institute of Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota-Manatee campus.

Klement, 69, worked for 32 years at The Bradenton Herald.

He said earlier this month that he would bring his broad knowledge base to the panel.

“While I’m not a specialist, as many of them are, you need a generalist who understands more than how to balance the books or how to wire a house for electricity,” Klement said.

FPL spent almost $4 million on rate hike request so far

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. has spent nearly $4 million so far in its $1.2 billion rate hike request and expects to spend another $1 million before the case is over.

The Juno Beach-based utility originally expected to spend about $3.7 million on the case, according to records filed with the Public Service Commission.

But extra days have been repeatedly added to the case, originally scheduled to last two weeks back in August. It’s now supposed to wind up on Friday.

FPL spent about $1.5 million on consultants, $787,774 on overtime for FPL professional staff and another $450,996 for legal services, its records show.

And the company spent $523,815 thus far on employee-related expenses and $521,646 for other services, including nearly $340,000 on temporary help.

FPL is asking that customers pay for the original $3.7 million included in its rate hike request.

An FPL spokesman said the power company will not ask customers to fork over the extra $1.3 million it expects to spend on the case.

The filing includes total expenses from January 2008 through September 2009 and a projection for total costs through the end of the proceeding.

The hearing is supposed to finish tomorrow and the panel is expected to cast its final vote on the rate proposal on Jan. 11.

Average FPL worker earns more than $90K a year. Average Floridian? About $40K.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. officials take the stand this morning to defend their proposed $1.2 billion rate hike before the Public Service Commission.

Yesterday, the Juno Beach-based utility knocked off about $53 million – less than 4 percent – from its original rate request.

Testimony yesterday also revealed that the company’s director of compensation had no idea what the average Floridian’s wage is although she’s in charge of ensuring that FPL wages are fair.

That’s not to say Slattery didn’t provide some brilliant answers regarding benchmarks of salaries in the utility industry, on which FPL bases its compensation.

The average annual salary of the utility’s 12,000 workers is more than $90,000 Kathleen Slattery told the panel.

The average Floridian’s wage is about $40,000, something Slattery did not know.

She also was unaware that state workers have not received a pay raise in three years.

But Slattery did tell the panel that FPL workers are scheduled to get between 2.4 percent and 3.4 percent pay hikes over the next two years.

That’s skewed because more than 440 FPL employees pull down more than $165,000.


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.

FPL takes $37 million in exec raises off the table

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. made a second multi-million dollar concession this morning in hopes of nailing down a $1.3 billion rate hike.

The state’s largest utility is scrapping about $37 million in executive pay from its proposed base rate increase, letting customers off the hook for the pay.

FPL already backed off $16 million in aviation costs this morning, lowering its $1.3 billion rate hike by about $53 million.

The company is challenging in court the PSC’s demand that the names of the 440 employees earning more than $165,000 per year be made public.

Read FPL attorney Susan Clarke’s statement at the hearing after the jump.

$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing kicks off with questions about corporate flights

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Dara Kam

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.


PSC won’t investigate Commish Argenziano

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission’s inspector general won’t investigate Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, turning down a request from a business group backing Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike.

PSC Inspector General Steven Stolting told Associated Industries of Florida lawyer Tamela Perdue in a letter that he won’t investigate allegations of impropriety and impartiality revealed in BlackBerry PIN messages exchanged between Argenziano and former aide Larry Harris.

AIF should file an ethics complaint instead, Stolting advised.

Stolting’s office is restricted to “conduct oversight activities within the Commission,” he wrote.

Argenziano called AIF’s accusations “baseless” and “stupid.”

Read here about FPL’s connection to AIF’s press release demanding the investigation.

FPL hearings should go on despite Crist’s objections, PSC staff says

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Utility regulators should not delay a vote this year on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike, Public Service Commission staff recommended today.

Gov. Charlie Crist asked the panel to hold off on FPL’s rate case and on Progress Energy Florida’s proposed $500 million rate increase until next year when his new hand-picked commissioners join the panel on Jan. 1.

FPL’s rate case is slated to resume Wednesday and finish up on Friday after dragging on more than two months longer than originally scheduled.

The PSC should ignore Crist’s request, staff wrote in a recommendation today. The panel is scheduled to vote on the recommendation next Tuesday.

The PSC is scheduled to vote on the amount of FPL’s base rate hike on Dec. 21 and on Progress Energy’s on Nov. 19.

FPL argued that the case should move forward because it would take the new commissioners – former newspaper editorial writer David Klement and Panhandle accountant and bar owner and manager Benjamin “Steve” Stevens – too long to get up to speed on the voluminous filings in the cases.

Suspended utility reg panel aides back on the job

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Two utility regulators’ aides are back on the job after being suspended with pay during investigations into BlackBerry messages exchanged with utility representatives.

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter reinstated aide William Garner on Oct. 5 and Commissioner Lisa Edgar put aide Roberta Bass back to work on Oct. 12.

The aides will be on the job when the PSC continues a hearing on Florida Power & Light Co.’s $1.3 billion rate hike request on Wednesday.


$1.3 billion FPL rate hike hearing goes on and on and on…

Monday, October 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

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.

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