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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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Revamped utility reg panel back at work today

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

A consumer-friendly former legislator with a reputation for bucking the system takes over as head of the panel that sets billions of dollars in utility rates, including a pending $1.2 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike request, today.

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano will become chairwoman of the agency that will now bear the brand of Gov. Charlie Crist who selected four of the five members of the panel and reappointed one previously picked by his predecessor Jeb Bush.

Also new to the regulatory panel: Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, a Panhandle accountant and co-owner of a bar catering to the college crowd.
Stevens, Crist’s latest appointment, joins the PSC just a week before the regulators are set to make two important votes: the FPL rate increase and a $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate hike request.

Commissioner David Klement, a retired newspaperman who spent more than three decades as an editorial writer, joined the panel late in October.

Argenziano, a former legislator with a reputation as a feisty maverick unafraid of defying the status quo, has vowed to clean up the embattled agency blackened by allegations of improper communications and relationships between agency staff and representatives of the utilities they oversee.

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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.
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Utility regulators sign off on $62.7 million for FPL nuke costs

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Public Service Commission just agreed by a 3-1 vote to let customers pick up the tab for $62.7 million of Florida Power & Light’s construction costs for new nuclear power plants.

Commissioner Nancy Argenziano casting the sole vote against the increase.

FPL customers will pay $0.67 for 1,000 kilowatt hours for the nuclear cost charges next year as a result of today’s vote.

The Juno Beach-based utility is also asking for a $1.3 billion base rate hike, but when the panel votes on that issue remains unclear.

Gov. Charlie Crist asked the PSC to wait until next year when his two new appointees to the regulatory agency come on board to vote on the FPL base rate hike and another $500 million base rate increase sought by Progress Energy Florida.

Argenziano, appointed by Crist in 2007, is likely to become chairwoman of the panel next year.

Even if FPL’s base rate increase is approved, customers’ bills will go down by at least $9 because of a drop in fuel charges.

Utility reg chairman Carter: “Just leave us alone.”

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter wants everyone to leave him and his colleagues alone so they can get on with their jobs and has no plans to ask for an internal investigation into charges of possible conflicts of interest or bias against Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, he said today.

“Right now I plan on getting through this hearing,” Carter told reporters during a break in a nuclear cost recovery meeting now ongoing.

The panel is scheduled to vote later today on requests from Florida Power & Light Co. to charge customers $63 million for what the utility’s expenses on nuclear power plant construction and a similar $236 million request from Progress Energy Florida.

Yesterday, Associated Industries of Florida President Barney Bishop asked that PSC’s inspector general look into thousands of BlackBerry messages exchanged between Argenziano and her aide Larry Williams over the past two years. Bishop accused Argenziano of potentially breaking laws barring ex parte communications between regulators and the utilities and of breaking her oath of office in unflattering comments aimed at her colleagues.

Read about FPL’s link with AIF’s press release here.

AIF’s demand is yet another distraction for the panel also poised to vote on about $2 billion in base rate increases – $1.3 billion sought by FPL and $500 million by Progress.

Ten days ago, the panel turned down a $1.6 billion request from FPL to build a natural gas pipeline through 14 counties.

State Attorney Willie Meggs said recently that his investigators have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing at the agency. And several internal investigations resulted in similar findings.
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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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FPL rate hike hearing to go on, regulators decide

Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Power & Light’s proposed $1.3 billion rate hike hearing will resume Wednesday as planned despite a powerful GOP senator’s request that that case and another be put on hold.

But Sen. Mike Fasano’s letter asking for the delay went into the case files, Public Service Commission general counsel Booter Imhof responded in a letter sent to Fasano today.

“It’s laughable. It’s laughable. You would think it would be a joke or a hoax if this wasn’t so serious,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said of Imhof’s response.

Fasano’s district is almost exclusively served by Progress Energy Florida, which is seeking a $500 million base rate increase.

“I think that’s a sad response when you hear about the coziness they have with the utility companies but they can’t respond in a better way to a sitting senator who has concerns about his citizens and the rate increase,” Fasano said.

Imhof is the latest PSC employee to jump ship. He resigned on Friday and is going to work for the Florida House. The PSC’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd resigned last week after an internal investigation could not prove he violated state laws or rules by attending a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL executive Ed Tancer.

Since then, the commission has fended off conflict-of-interest concerns concerning communications, conferences and dinners.

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Argenziano lashes out at Lopez-Cantera

Friday, September 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano snapped back at state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera for criticizing her critique of his questions of Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter.

Argenziano, a former lawmaker who served in both the House and the Senate, sent a heated letter to Lopez-Cantera late this evening in which she expounds on her repeated complaints that lawmakers with too close of ties to utilities have too much influence over the regulatory panel on which she sits.

Lopez-Cantera sits on the council that selects nominees for the governor to appoint to the regulatory agency. He wasn’t happy with the answers Carter gave at the Sept. 1 nominating council meeting although Carter did make the list of six finalists for Gov. Charlie Crist to consider.

Her letter is a response to one Lopez-Cantera sent to her yesterday criticizing her reaction to his dissatisfaction with the PSC’s unanimous decision to force Florida Power & Light officials to release the salaries of all its employees that earn more than $165,000 per year. He advised Argenziano she could have found the information in the Juno Beach-based corporation’s federal filings as he and his office staff did in less than an hour.

“This same information would have saved the PSC time and taxpayer money,” Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, wrote in a letter sent yesterday.

The federal information does not include bonuses and other perks that boost some of the salaries by up to 500 percent, Argenziano responded tonight.

“Your apparently gullible acceptance, Representative Cantera, as the FERC document reflects, that the salary of FPL’s Executive Vice President is $23,000, is flabbergasting. The ‘less than an hour’ which you and your office spent producing this useless information is perhaps the true waste of time and taxpayer money,” Argenziano wrote.

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PSC says little about halting utility rate hearings

Friday, September 11th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission spokeswoman Cynthia Muir gave this response to Sen. Mike Fasano’s request today that Chairman Matthew Carter indefinitely delay rate hearings now underway for FPL and Progress Energy Florida.

“The Chairman is on bed rest today due to his recent back surgery and the strain caused from the long hours of sitting during the hearings. I can tell you that there are statutory time lines that must be followed for each rate case filing. If a Commission decision is not made within the required time frame, the rates requested by the company in its filing can be implemented, at the discretion of the company.

Florida Statue 366.06 provides detail on this.

Thanks,
Cindy”

Progress is requesting a $500 million rate hike. That hearing is scheduled to resume Sept. 21, and the FPL – which is seeking a $1.3 billion rate increase – case is slated to resume on Wednesday.

When asked specifically whether Chairman Carter would postpone the hearings and what the pertinent dates were in both cases, Muir gave the following reply:

“Florida Statute 366.06 spells out the time frame. The Chairman has not responded to the Senator’s letter yet, so there’s no way of knowing what he intends,” she wrote.

Under Florida law, the PSC must give a final order in the FPL case by Nov. 20 or the new rates can go into effect Jan. 1. The utility would have to pay customers back if the panel then rejected the rate hike.

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