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Utility regulators scrutinize energy giants’ nuclear energy plans

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, utility regulators will again start looking into an expansion of nuclear power in Florida and decide how much of the bill will be shouldered by rate payers.

Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy are asking the Public Service Commission to sign on off their proposals to pass off about $355 million in nuclear energy-related costs to residents and businesses. The money would go to upgrade existing power plants, including one in St. Lucie County, and two cover the costs of new nuclear reactors that may not begin operating for at least another decade.

Hearings on the nuclear cost recovery plans are scheduled to begin this morning at 9:30 a.m in Tallahassee and can be viewed live on the internet at www.floridapsc.com or The Florida Channel’s website at www.thefloridachannel.org. The meeting will begin with a discussion of which documents will remain secret.

Juno Beach-based FPL is asking for about $196 million next year to help upgrade nuclear plants in St. Lucie and Miami-Dade counties and to move forward on a plan to build two new reactors at the Miami-Dade site known as “Turkey Point.”

The energy companies and many state lawmakers the expansion of nuclear power is necessary to wean the state off fossil fuels and to save money for customers.

But attorneys for large businesses, consumers and environmental groups question the methodology the energy companies are using and whether customers will actually benefit in the long run.

The state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, argues that FPL’s decisions to “fast track” the new reactors led to inflated costs – an argument FPL disputes.

If approved, FPL’s request would result in a $2.09 increase next year for residential customers, based on 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity usage.

- The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

Ex-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez joins Progress Energy board of directors

Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who left office last year before finishing out his first term, has joined the board of directors of the state’s second largest utility.

Martinez, 63, was elected to Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy’s board earlier this month.

Progress Energy operates Progress Energy Florida, which provides power to nearly 2 million customers in the Tampa Bay area. State utility regulators recently turned down the utility’s $500 million rate hike request.

Not a bad part-time gig for Martinez. The annual pay for outside directors like him is $80,000 including $30,000 towards a deferred compensation plan, according to the company’s federal SEC filings.

Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 2005, Martinez was the mayor of Orange County and was on the Orlando Utilities Commission. He’s been lobbying as a partner with the law firm DLA Piper since leaving office last year.

Martinez’s early retirement set off a political cascade in Florida and paved the way for Gov. Charlie Crist to take his place.

Crist appointed his own former chief of staff George LeMieux as a place-holder to fill in for Martinez until the November election. Crist is running in a GOP primary for the seat against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

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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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.

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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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