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FPL CEO, other execs dine at White House – on their own dime

Friday, October 9th, 2009 by Dara Kam

FPL Group CEO Lew Hay and three other chief executives broke bread with President Barack Obama yesterday in the president’s private dining room.

But taxpayers needn’t worry about picking up the tab for the Hay and the bosses of Amazon.com, Kraft and Eastman Kodak.

The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson blogged that the four chiefs whipped out their credit cards at the end of a sandwich and salad luncheon “for the same price as the going rate outside the walls of the White House.”

It was the third Dutch-treat lunch hosted by the president at the White House, Williamson reported.

Obama’s no-free-lunch policy is meant to reflect the administration’s harsh view of coziness between elected officials and special interests.

That attitude is also reflected in Florida’s gift ban laws that make it illegal for legislators or their staff from accepting goodies of any sort – including meals, beverages and even after-dinner mints – from lobbyists or for lobbyists to give them.
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FPL pipeline hearing should go on, PSC staff recommends

Monday, October 5th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A vote tomorrow on whether Florida Power & Light Co. should get the thumbs up on a proposed $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline should go on, staff for the regulatory panel recommended today.

Florida Gas Transmission Co. LLC, the state’s largest natural gas transmission provider, asked the Public Service Commission to dismiss the FPL case because of the appearance of improper relationships shared by the Juno Beach-based utility and the regulators.

The PSC’s lobbyist Ryder Rudd resigned after an internal investigation into possible misconduct after Rudd admitted he attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Rudd had a hand in analyzing FPL’s proposed 300-mile pipeline.

FGT objected that the process should start anew and that the commission should consider FPL’s proposal after an “untainted” staff support process.

Instead, PSC staff today recommended moving forward with tomorrow’s vote.

The staff’s analysis “provides primary and alternate recommendations on the most controversial issues in the case, and it provides a wide variety of options for the Commission’s consideration. It is perhaps the best evidence of the full and fair review that the staff conducted in the case, whether contentious along the way or not,” the recommendation reads.

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.

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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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Crist says utility panel appointments hang on FPL rate hike vote

Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

The future of two utility regulators depends upon their vote in a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike, Gov. Charlie Crist said this morning.

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter Photo Courtesy Capital News Service

Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter Photo Courtesy Capital News Service

Crist has until Oct. 1 to reappoint two commissioners – Chairman Matthew Carter and Katrina McMurrian – whose terms expire Jan. 1.

PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian

PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian

Crist said he wants them to just say no to the Juno Beach-based utility.

“Let’s see what the commissioners want to do. Then I can have a better handle on who to appoint or reappoint,” Crist told reporters this morning.

A reporter asked Crist if he heard the governor correctly – that the commissioners’ vote would affect their appointments.

“You did,” Crist answered. “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.”

Sen. Mike Fasano on Friday asked Carter, appointed to the panel by Gov. Jeb Bush, to indefinitely delay the FPL hearing and a $500 million Progress Energy Florida rate case until a storm of controversies surrounding the regulatory panel clears.

Crist disagreed.

“I don’t know why we should postpone it,” he said.

Carter said this morning that he hadn’t seen Fasano’s letter because he was on bed rest Friday recuperating from two back surgeries earlier this year.

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PSC staffer who went to PBC Kentucky Derby party resigns

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission staffer Ryder Rudd resigned this morning after an internal investigation found that he may have broken the regulatory agency’s ethics rules.

Rudd, who earned $92,000 a year, attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of Florida Power & Light Co. vice president Ed Tancer although Rudd was involved in at least two of the utility’s rate filings.

Knowledge of Rudd’s attendance at Tancer’s gala was the first in a string of events, the latest including two PSC staff resignations and two commissioners’ aides being place on administrative leave.

Also today, Sen. Mike Fasano asked for a Senate Ethics and Elections Committee hearing into whether the regulators and their staff are too cozy with the utilities they oversee.

“After reading and hearing of what’s happening over at the Public Service Commission, it sounds to me like they’re ready to implode over there,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

In the meantime, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also conducting an informal investigation into the same possible problem.

Two sitting PSC commissioners – Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian – were included in the list of six nominees given to Gov. Charlie Crist last week. Fasano asked Crist to hold off on the appointments until the panel votes on a proposed $1.3 billion FPL rate hike.

Carter’s aide Bill Garner and Commissioner Lisa Edgar’s aide Roberta Bass were put on leave today after the Times/Herald reported that the aides had given secret Blackberry PIN numbers to an FPL attorney. Commissioner Nancy Argenziano fired her aide, Larry Harris, who is seeking reemployment elsewhere within the agency.

PSC “about to implode” says Fasano

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009 by Dara Kam

fasanoThe panel that regulates utilities seems like “it’s about to implode,” Sen. Mike Fasano said today.

Fasano, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, asked Senate President Jeff Atwater to order an ethics investigation into whether the Public Service Commission and its staff are too cozy with the industry it regulates.

“You have a regulatory body that can’t even regulate themselves let alone regulate a multi-billion dollar utility company that’s asking for a 30 percent rate increase,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey said.

Attorney General Bill McCollum earlier today said his office is “looking into” problems at the regulatory agency and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently conducting an informal investigation.

The PSC is considering rate hikes for both Florida Power & Light Co. and Progress Energy and a proposed FPL natural gas pipeline that would altogether raise customers’ rates by more than $3 billion.

PSC staffer Ryder Rudd was pulled off all FPL cases after it was learned that he attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. An internal investigation found that he may have broken the agency’s ethics rules but could not prove it.

This weekend, The Miami Herald reported that other PSC aides had given secret Blackberry PIN numbers to an FPL attorney, prompting Commissioner Nancy Argenziano to fire her aide and Commissioner Lisa Edgar to put hers on leave.

‘From the Commission’s chief lobbyist attending a party with executives from Florida Power & Light, to the sharing of Blackberry PINs between commissioners, staff and utility executives, the appearance of impropriety has become impropriety itself.

‘If you throw into the mix the fact that two of the five sitting commissioners are up for possible reappointment in the midst of the rate case it becomes evident that disaster is in the making. I have publically asked the governor to not reappoint the two sitting commissioners until the rate cases have been disposed of,” Fasano wrote to Atwater asking for the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee investigation. The committee has to confirm Gov. Charlie Crist’s nominations for the commission.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter last week denied the regulators were too close to the utilities.

Read Fasano’s entire letter to Atwater after the jump.

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PSC Chairman Carter denies he’s “too cozy” with FPL

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

matt_carterbioIn the latest installment of intrigue at the Public Service Commission, chairman Matthew Carter issued an indignant press release today saying he takes “great offense” at reports that utility regulators are too cozy with Florida Power & Light Co. executives.

The PSC is in the midst of a FPL rate hearing in which the company is seeking a $1.3 billion rate hike implemented over two years.

The opening of the hearing was delayed after it was revealed that a PSC lobbyist and government liaison attended a party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL VP Ed Tancer. Ryder Rudd, director of the commission’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Governmental Affairs, oversees staff working on two pending FPL cases – the current rate hike and a proposed $1.5 billion natural gas pipeline from the Panhandle to Palm Beach County.

An internal investigation released yesterday found that Rudd may not have broken the law by attending the party but may have violated rules of conduct prohibiting PSC staff from accepting gifts from those whose cases are under review.

Commissioner Nathan Skop, who exposed Rudd’s attendance at the party, demanded that Rudd be fired immediately. Rudd has been taken off any dockets involving FPL.

Carter weighed in today with the press release denying that commissioners and their staff are “too cozy with regulated industries, FPL in particular.”

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PSC staffer used “poor judgment” at PBC Kentucky Derby party

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 by Dara Kam

A Public Service Commission staffer used “poor judgment” but an internal investigation did not conclude that he broke the law by attending a Kentucky Derby party at the home of a utility company executive.

But at least one PSC commissioner, Nathan Skop, demanded that PSC Office of Strategic Analysis and Government Affairs Ryder Rudd resign anyway.

Rudd went to a party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of Florida Power & Light Co. general counsel and VP Ed Tancer. Rudd oversees a staff of 28, some of whom are working on two FPL cases – a proposed rate hike and a natural gas pipeline.

The panel learned on the first day of the rate hearing last Monday of Rudd’s attendance at the party. Rudd had called several members of the panel over the weekend. He was removed from the FPL cases while the agency’s inspector general conducted an investigation, the results of which were released today.

Meanwhile, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials are looking into a complaint, spokeswoman Heather Smith said. But she said the agency was not conducting a formal investigation.
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PBC Kentucky Derby fete puts brakes on FPL rate hearing

Monday, August 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Palm Beachers love parties and a horse race is as good an excuse as any to host one for the county’s elite.

But the Kentucky Derby party at FPL vice president Ed Tancer’s Palm Beach Gardens home in the gated San Michele community has a Public Service Comission staffer in hot water.

PSC governmental affairs director Ryder Rudd and his wife attended the fete at Tancer’s home although Rudd is involved in hearings about FPL’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

PSC Commissioner Nathan Skop interrupted an FPL rate hearing this morning asking that Rudd be removed from the case and also asking for the employee to resign.

Rudd told Skop and PSC Commissioner Nancy Argenziano about the party over the weekend and tried to reach Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, the commissioners said.

McMurrian said she did not listen to his voice message left on her cell phone.

PSC Chairman Matthew Carter said Rudd did not contact him and was taken aback by Skop’s revelations.

Tancer, 46, is a vice-president and general counsel for the utility.

FPL is asking for a $1.3 billion-a-year rate hike for its 4.5 million Florida customers. The rate hearing is scheduled to last two weeks, but Skop suggested that he may ask that the case be dismissed because of Rudd’s possible misconduct.

The rate hearing is now in recess until the commissioners figure out what to do. They may hold an emergency hearing to decide on Rudd’s fate.

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