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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.


Argenziano new head of utility reg panel

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano

Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano

The Florida Public Service Commission unanimously elected Nancy Argenziano as chairwoman today for a two-year term beginning Jan. 2, 2010.

Argenziano will be the head of the PSC when the panel votes on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike shortly after she takes over.

The feisty Argenziano served in the legislature for more than a decade before Gov. Charlie Crist appointed her to the PSC in 2007.

“I appreciate the challenge and realize that the Chairmanship is purely an administrative charge. All PSC Commissioners are equal and independent appointees. Now, let’s get to work on the important decisions that lie ahead,” Argenziano said.


Utility regulators cleared of wrongdoing…again

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found no evidence of wrongdoing in the exchange of BlackBerry messages between utility regulators or their staff and utility officials.

FDLE issued the three-page report today, long after Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs also found no laws had been broken.

The report was released as the Public Service Commission held a workshop to discuss a 17-year-old statewide grand jury report recommending changes to how information between the PSC and the utilities is exchanged to clear up the perception that there isn’t enough distance between the regulators and the utilities they regulate.

The PSC has operated under a cloud of suspicion since late this summer at the beginning of hearings on Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike.

On the opening day of the hearing, it was revealed that the agency’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Rudd later quit.

Two commissioners suspended their aides for swapping BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer and another fired hers for giving his secret BlackBerry identification number (PIN) to an FPL lawyer.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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