Regulators vote to continue talks on FPL's settlement with big power users

Florida’s Public Service Commission voted Thursday to continue discussion of Florida Power & Light Co.’s proposed settlement with big power users.

Regulators, who expressed concern about running into legal entanglements if they approved the settlement without additional testimony, plan an accelerated hearing process, at a later date, to air issues concerning the agreement.

Only the issues that go outside the rate case before regulators would be addressed at the hearing. Those include an upgrade to Port Everglades and Riviera Beach power plants to convert them to natural gas, costs that were not part of the original rate case.

Florida’s Office of Public Counsel and the Florida Retail Federation oppose the settlement and asked regulators to reject it.

On the typical 1,000-kilowatt residential bill, the increase under the settlement would be about a buck less: $5.93 a month on a base rate of $49.19. FPL had requested an increase of $7.09 a month, which would have resulted in a base rate to $50.35.

FPL has said the settlement reduces rates for all customers and supports its effort to modernize plants, which in the long term reduces rates for consumers.

But the Public Counsel, the state’s consumer advocate, and other parties say the proposal contains millions in hidden costs that are being passed on to the consumer.

Robert Scheffel Wright, a lawyer representing the Florida Retail Federation, told regulators that the settlement shifts dollars from consumers to FPL shareholders. “We strongly agree the proposal is not in the public interest,” he said.

Charles Rehwinkle of the Public Counsel’s office accused FPL of “bullying” tactics, saying the agreement was “self-negotiated” and serves less than 1 percent of the electric utility’s customers.

Commissioner Lisa Polak Edgar proposed the accelerated hearing to focus on the issues not originally in FPL’s rate case and discussed during hearings held in August. In detailing the issues, she asked if there were any she had forgotten.

An unidentified voice piped up, “and the ultimate issue – is it in the public interest?”

“Of course,” Edgar said. “The public interest supplants all else.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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