AARP trying to rally opposition to FPL's proposed $690M rate hike

AARP is taking a vocal stance against the $690 million rate hike proposed by Florida Power & Light.

The advocacy group for those 50 and above is saying the increase would hurt consumers, especially seniors on a fixed income. It is joining with other large groups, such as the Florida Retail Federation, to oppose the hike.


AARP is urging South Floridians to attend at least one public hearing in Broward next Wednesday, Aug. 8, to protest to the Public Service Commission that will rule on the request. The first will be  9 a.m. Wednesday at the Plantation City Council Chambers, 400 NW 73rd Ave., in Plantation. A second will be 4 p.m.  at the South Regional/Broward College Library, 7300 Pines Blvd, in Pembroke Pines. {NOTE: An earlier version had had the second meeting at the Main Library in downtown Fort Lauderdale but that is not correct.]

FPL said the $690 million rate increase is needed. The state's largest utility with 4.5 million customers, said the increase would pay for inflation-related costs, grid improvements and infrastructure improvements, once they come online.

The new Riviera Beachenergy center now under construction will be finished in 2014 and at that time consumers will begin to help pay for it. When the new facilities come online, they will burn a third less energy and save consumers even more money, said Mike Sole, a FPL vice president.

"It's a tremendous value to consumers," said Sole, who added that the new construction is employing thousands.

FPL has consistently been cost-conscious and is among the top 10 percent of utilities nationwide for keeping operating expenses low, Sole added.

"People's utility bills have decreased by about 13 percent since 2006 because FPL has invested in energy-saving power plants,'' said spokesman Mark Bubriski.


"A lot of people don't realize that," he added. "That's pretty significant."

But Charles Milstead, AARP associate state director, said the proposed rate increase isn't needed -- especially when so many Floridians remain unemployed or working fewer hours than they want.

"FPL is making a reasonable profit now," he said.

The utility reported Friday a profit of $353 million in the second quarter, up 17 percent from $301 million last year.


That substantial increase contrasts with many Floridians struggling to survive in a still difficult economy, Milstead said. Many may not be able to afford the gas to drive to Wednesday's hearings, he added.

Others may not understand the true costs involved, Milstead said.

"To justify its request, FPL is using math that many consumers may find confusing, in an attempt to convince them that their utility bills will only increase a couple of dollars per month," AARP said in an e-mail statement.

But Milstead said the actual increase would be more than triple that, tacking on about $7 a month to the average consumer's bill every month.

"FPL's math mixes the impact of lower rates from lower natural-gas fuel costs with their proposed rate increase, which makes the rate increase seem smaller," AARP maintains in a released statement.

"For Florida consumers, specifically seniors living on a fixed income, it's troubling to know that FPL is asking for rates that would increase revenue and give its shareholders returns of more than 11 percent," the group added in a statement. "This, at a time when most Florida consumers would consider themselves lucky to get interest return rates higher than a mere 2 percent on their investments. The extra costs represent an unfair burden on Florida consumers of all generations, especially older Floridians."

Seniors may even get less than a 2 percent cost of living increase with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting in one measurement that U.S. costs in June had increased only 1.7 percent in a year.

Social Security administrators are required by law to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index for Urban Workers from July 1 to Sept. 30 to set any Social Security cost of living increases, 954-356-4404 or Twitter @donnagehrke