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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist weighs in and opposes Progress Energy rate increase

25

August

A day into the hearing over Florida Power & Light's request to raise basic rates 30 percent, Gov. Charlie Crist has finally issued a statement: “I applaud the Public Service Commission for taking time to listen to consumers over the past weeks as they shared their concerns about proposed rate hikes by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy,'' he said in a prepared statement just released. "Florida’s families and businesses are hurting during these challenging economic times, and now is exactly the wrong time to approve excessive rate increases. I call upon the Commissioners to respond to the needs of Floridians who cannot afford the higher rates by not overburdening consumers at this time.”

FPL quickly responded: “We agree with the Governor that excessive rate increases are not appropriate. At FPL, we have the lowest typical customer bill of Florida's 54 electric utilities, and we haven't had a general base rate increase in nearly a quarter of a century.

"Even with the reasonable adjustment we have requested, our 2010 typical customer bills are expected to go down by about $9 a month, including lower projected fuel prices for 2009-2010 and improvements in fuel efficiency at our fossil power plants. Looking beyond 2010, it’s precisely because the cost of fuel could go up again that we must continue investing to achieve greater fuel efficiency. Our rate adjustment will help ensure we can continue to do that. Our proposal calls for future investments that will help continue to keep our customer bills lower over the long term with greater fuel efficiency, which is in step with the Governor's plan for securing Florida's energy future.”

The PSC is into the second day of hearings today. Some highlights:

* FPL CEO Armando Olivera acknowledged being a member of Associated Industries of Florida, the business-backed group which traditionally refuses to reveal its membership and which has endorsed the rate increase.

* Olivera acknowledged that the company spent an undetermined amount to provide transportation to employees to the public hearings and that other people were asked to testify on FPL's charitable contributions.

* Olivera acknowledged that he never attended any of the nine public hearings preceding the rate case and instead received briefings on them.

* Confidential red envelopes were distributed to commissioners and the intervening parties, containing the salary data of FPL executives that the company wants kept secret. Attorney for the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, Jon Moyle, asked a series of questions about the salaries. When the questioning was over, FPL picked up the red envelopes before lunch -- so they wouldn't get into the wrong hands.

* Commissioner Nathan Skop asked why FPL hasn't lowered customer bills to account for the $294 million it has over-collected in fuel charges from customers this year. Olivera responded it is only required to adjust what it charges customers for fuel if it collects 10 percent more than it anticipated. "While $300 million may sound like an awful lot of money, it doesn't take a huge movement in fuel to go above that threshold,'' he said.

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 4:59pm]

    

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