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Senate Prez-to-be hires former utilities regulator

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Matt Carter, the former chairman of the Public Service Commission, is now the staff director for the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

Carter’s taken the place of Diana Caldwell, who was let go last month by Senate President-elect Mike Haridopolos. Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, and his newly appointed chief of staff and general counsel Steve MacNamara are making a clean sweep of high-paid staff whom Haridopolos accused of behaving like “the 41st senator” and having too much influence over public policy.

Carter chaired the regulatory panel during a bleak period marked by investigations into secret BlackBerry messages swapped between utility lobbyists and PSC staff and revelations that the PSC’s own lobbyist partied at the home of a Florida Power & Light executive during a Kentucky Derby fete. Carter, who was not involved in the BlackBerry message investigations, put an end to the use of the electronic devices.

Carter’s term ran out in December and he was not reappointed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Utility regulators skip workshop on cleaning up their agency

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Three of the five Public Service Commissioners were absent today at a public discussion of how to clean up their beleaguered regulatory panel.

And one of the two who did bother to attend won’t be on the panel much longer – Chairman Matthew Carter’s term is up on Dec. 31 and Gov. Charlie Crist didn’t reappoint him.

Carter scheduled the staff workshop for today – two days before Thanksgiving because the PSC has a busy schedule and it’s a work week like any other, he said.


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.

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.

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.

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.


What they’re saying about Crist utility reg panel sweep

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Consumer groups applauded Gov. Charlie Crist’s choice of two outsiders to serve on the Public Service Commission shifting the balance away from a utility-friendly panel for the first time in decades.

Crist ousted PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and whose terms end Dec. 31, as the panel gets ready to vote on two pending utility rate increases, including a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

Instead, Crist tapped David Klement, who spent more than three decades as a newspaperman and now serves as director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, an accountant and chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

The regulatory agency has come under fire for allegations of coziness with the industries it oversees as the FPL and Progress Energy Florida rate hearings are underway. Thus far, one PSC staffers has been fired, two more resigned and two have been placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of reports that some of the aides swapped secret BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer.

Here’s what consumer advocates had to say about Crist’s selections.


Crist cleans house at utility reg panel

Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed two new utility regulators to the Public Service Commission, snubbing current Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian.

Crist tapped former newspaperman David Klement and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office CFO Benjamin “Steve” Stevens and shaking up the status quo at the regulatory panel mired in controversy in the process of deciding on a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

The ouster of McMurrian and Carter makes it likely that renegade Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, an outspoken critic of the PSC who accuses regulators of being too close to the utilities they oversee, will take over as chairwoman of the panel next year.

Crist put Argenziano, a former state senator, on the board two years ago to represent consumers and his picks today of two new commissioners who have no ties to utilities mark a decided shift from a PSC that has up until now been viewed as utility-friendly.

Crist to tap utility regulators before FPL rate hike vote

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist must appoint – or reappoint – two utility regulators to the Public Service Commission before the panel votes on a pending $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.

Crist said this morning he has been paying close attention to the scandal-plagued panel and will move forward with his picks, due to the Senate by the end of the week.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter pushed back the FPL vote to Jan. 11 – ten days after his term and the term of Commissioner Katrina McMurrian ends.

“Intriguing, wasn’t it?” Crist said when asked about Carter’s decision, adding that it won’t impact the appointment process. “We still have the opportunity to make these selections. I still get to make the choice on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Sink: FPL $900 million premature rate hike “outrageous”

Monday, September 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink weighed in on Florida Power & Light Co.’s plan to implement a $900 million base rate hike before state regulators vote on the proposed increase.

“I’m opposed to the FPL rate increase. And FPL’s attempt to implement the rate increase before the Public Service Commission makes a decision is simply unnecessary and outrageous,” Sink, a Democrat who is leaving office after one term to run for governor next year, told The Palm Beach Post today.

A lawyer for the state’s largest utility told PSC Chairman Matthew Carter last week that FPL would impose the rate hike on Jan. 4, as permitted by state law. The Juno Beach-based company would have to refund any difference in the rates after the PSC makes its final vote on the issue, scheduled for Jan. 11.

The decision comes after the terms of two commissioners – Carter and Katrina McMurrian – end. Gov. Charlie Crist threatened not to reappoint them if they vote in favor of the rate hike, raising fears in the investment community about a shift in Florida’s previously utility-friendly regulatory environment.

FPL’s rate hearing has dragged on far beyond its originally slated two weeks. The hearing, its first base rate request in more than two decades, has been bogged down in staff firings and suspensions, revelations about coziness between the regulators and the utilities they oversee and secret messages exchanged between PSC staff and FPL lawyer Natalie Smith.

Critics have also attacked FPL for proposing to use some of the $1.3 billion-a-year rate increase to purchase new planes for its air fleet now comprised of three fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters.

And FPL is now fighting in court an order from the panel to make the salaries of its highest-paid executives and engineers public. FPL officials agreed to give the data to the panel but wanted it kept secret from the public.

FPL maintains that customers’ bills will go down $9 per month even with the rate hike because fuel charges will go down.

Company officials had this response to Sink’s comments:

“Floridians should not allow political grandstanding to create further uncertainty for customers and for FPL projects that will bring a lot of value to Floridians, now and in the future. Because of the delay that politics have caused, there are two paths forward here: a knee-jerk, short-sighted political response, which puts at risk thousands of construction jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for Florida communities and billions of dollars in capital investment at a time when all of this desperately needed; or a prudent, responsible and timely deliberation based on the facts and the merits of the case and its long-term impact,” FPL said in a statement.

FPL to implement $900 million rate hike before PSC vote

Friday, September 25th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. plans to raise rates by more than $900 million beginning Jan. 4 without waiting for the Public Service Commission’s decision on whether to grant the requested increase, according to a letter from an FPL executive sent to the panel today.

Florida law allows the utility to implement the rate hike without the regulatory panel’s approval, but FPL would have to refund the difference to customers if the PSC authorizes a smaller increase. The regulatory board’s final decision is now scheduled for Jan. 11 because the rate case has run into overtime.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter today refused to grant FPL’s requests from earlier this week to make a decision by Dec. 4.

Instead, the PSC will keep its schedule of finishing its hearing Oct. 21-23, voting Dec. 21 on the total amount FPL can collect and voting Jan. 11 on how that increase will affect different types of customers, such as homeowners and businesses.


FPL rate hike round-up

Friday, September 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike 13-hour marathon hearing yesterday concluded with one head-injured FPL lawyer, an order for an independent audit of the utility’s corporate jet spending and yet another delay to hear yet more testimony next month.

Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop demanded the audit to check into the Juno Beach-based utility’s fuzzy accounting for VIPs, their wives and guests who flew, some at customers’ expense, to far-flung destinations including Europe, Martha’s Vineyard and Louisville during the Kentucky Derby.

FPL will have spent at least $32.5 million between 2006 and 2009 on the corporate aircraft travel alone, its records show.

“It’s very important to me that the rate payers of FPL are not being allocated costs that are not prudently incurred,” Skop said.

The discussion of the executive’s flights revealed that FPL Chief Financial Officer Armando Pimentel flew to Tallahassee on the corporate jet, earning a rebuke from Jon Moyle, a lawyer for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group that opposes the rate increase.


Fired utility reg panel staffer reassigned to general counsel’s office

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano’s former aide Larry Harris is back at work at the utility regulatory agency in the general counsel’s office.

Argenziano fired Harris earlier this month for giving his secret BlackBerry personal identification number (PIN) to Florida Power & Light Co. attorney Natalie Smith.

The PINs allow BlackBerry users to exchange messages that can be impossible to trace.

Two other commissioners – including Chairman Matthew Carter – put their aides, who make at least $84,000 a year, on paid leave until investigations into the messaging mystery are resolved.

Carter also banned the use of the PINs or other types of communication that don’t leave a public record.

Harris was reassigned to the general counsel’s office as a senior attorney where he now earns $60,000 a year. The PSC’s general counsel Booter Imhof resigned Friday. He gave two weeks’ notice and said he is going back to work for the House of Representatives.

The PSC’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd resigned earlier this month after it was revealed that he attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. An internal investigation could not prove whether Rudd, who oversaw staff handling several FPL rate requests, broke state law or rules by going to the fete.

The musical chairs at the PSC takes place during a $1.3 billion proposed FPL rate hike hearing. Progress Energy Florida is also seeking a $500 million rate increase. That case is scheduled to resume next week.

UPDATE: FPL spent more than $52 million over past four years on corporate jet flights

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light Co. officials tried but failed to keep secret the names of some of those who flew on their corporate jets during a rate hike hearing today.

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter ordered the Juno Beach-based utility to provide the names of everyone who flew on its private jet over the objections of FPL lawyer John Butler.

The 1,500-page volume of flight logs going back to 2006 revealed that the company spent about $52 million on operation and maintenance for corporate jet flights over the past four years. That includes what they project they will spend for the next three months.

At least two GOP Florida elected officials traveled with FPL executives on the jet, the flight logs showed.

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who retired last month, and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, flew on the plane on separate occasions in 2006.

Taking away charges the company made to its affiliates for the jet travel, FPL still spent between $6.7 million and $9.5 million a year over the past four years, the records show.

FPL officials say the planes are necessary for the corporation to conduct its business.

“All the redacted names were those of NextEra/FPL Energy employees whose travel costs were paid for by their company, not Florida Power & Light,” FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said in an e-mailed statement.

“NextEra/FPL Energy flight data, in addition to not being paid by FPL, is competitively sensitive, and that is why it is redacted. The only information that has been redacted is: 1) phone numbers, for privacy reasons; and 2) competitively sensitive NextEra/FPL Energy-specific information that does not relate to the cost of the travel,” Bubriski wrote.

Aircraft play a vital role in the safe and reliable operations of our 35-county electric infrastructure. We adhere to policies and procedures that prevent unnecessary use and keep costs as low as possible.

Utility reg chairman: “Shenanigans” won’t distract me

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The more nearly $2 billion hanging in the balance of two utility rate hearings is contributing to the cloud of suspicion engulfing the regulatory panel that will rule on the cases, Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter said today.

Before hearing on Florida Power & Light Co.’s requested $1.3 billion rate hike resumed after lunch, Carter offered the following statement on the goings-on.

“I think it’s no accident that all these shenanigans and sideshows are happening because we have these two rate cases,” Carter told The Palm Beach Post.

The panel is also considering a $500 million rate increase proposed by Progress Energy Florida.

“Some groups benefit if the rate case is denied. Some group benefits if the rate case is granted. But we’re going to make a decision. As for me, I will not be intimidated,” Carter added.


Missing McMurrian mystery solved

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Katrina McMurrian’s absence at the onset of this morning’s Florida Power & Light Co. rate hearing wasn’t a mystery after all.

McMurrian said she was about an hour late to the meeting because her response to a motion asking her to be removed from the panel for the rate increase vote wasn’t yet ready.

McMurrian, who refused to recuse herself, didn’t want to attend the meeting until her formal response had been filed, she said.


Did Crist cross the line with PSC threat?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist crossed the line when he threatened two utility regulators’ jobs if they vote for a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike, a Palm Beach Post editorial opined today.

“I think it would be nice to reject the increase. I’m trying to appoint members that would be sympathetic to the people and the economic challenge that they’re facing. So that’s a factor,” Crist said Monday.

Here’s an excerpt of today’s editorial:

“Imagine that the governor said: ‘I will base my decision on whether these commissioners approve what FPL wants. The company is very important to Florida, and its rates are the lowest in the state. FPL needs this money to make its plants more efficient, saving customers money and providing the electricity Florida will need to rejuvenate the economy.’

Hearing that, most people who don’t work for FPL or have a connection to the company would say, “How dare he?” And they would be right. Which is why it was just as wrong for Gov. Crist to say on Monday that he would reappoint Commissioners Matthew Carter and Katrina McMurrian only if they reject that $1.3 billion annual increase FPL wants.

The governor’s comment wasn’t just political grandstanding; it was borderline demagoguery, because it played on the public’s ignorance of the facts. When a seat on the Public Service Commission – which regulates power and phone companies – comes open, a 12-member nominating council accepts applications. The council screens and interviews those applicants, and recommends finalists. The governor must make his pick no more than 30 days after receiving the names.”

Where are the BlackBerries?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

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.

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