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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

PSC to look into whistleblower letter

5

January

Three people who say they are employees of NextEra, a sister company to Florida Power & Light, submitted a letter to Public Service Commission Monday alleging that the parent company manipulated the books to give it a $1 billion tax credit that it may not have been entitled to and that resulted in FPL electric company customers footing the bill for the difference.

According to the letter, signed by "3 concerned and fearful current employees NextEra Energy Resources," the parent company -- FPL Group -- under the leadership of its two previous presidents,  consolidated yearly reporting for FPL Co. and NextEra under the single FPL Group tax report, thereby allowing FPL Co. to benefit from tax credits from its wind generation plan. Meanwhile, the employees allege, FPL Co. charged ratepayers for the normal corporate tax rate, resulting in $1 billion in savings to FPL Group.

PSC general counsel Curt Kiser said the commission is "looking into it and taking the letter very seriously."

He said the commission staff is trying to learn "how the tax credits get moved around and is there something here that is inappropriate or should have been disclosed. We'll present it to the commissioners and decide how to proceed."

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano said the PSC will deal with the issue if it determines that there are tax loopholes "in which the customers are not being treated fairly." If it suspects criminal wrongdoing the PSC will urge other entities to investigate, such as the IRS, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the attorney general.

The issue was raised in a 2006 storm recovery hearing, but Commissioner Lisa Edgar said at the time the line of questioning had "gone beyond the scope" of the issue before them. (Edgar is the only sitting commissioner still on the panel from 2006.) Although the employees allege that the issue was raised over the years by "numerous employees," it was allowed to perpetuate. Edgar said Tuesday she does not remember the discussion at the storm recovery hearing "but I also do not remember saying ever that I refused to investigate." 

The employees said the accounting method was used by NextEra CEO Lew Hay (who is now CEO of FPL Group) who was followed by James Robo but the method was discontinued by current CEO F. Mitchell Davidson. The employees said they are bringing it up again now because the commission is composed of new members.

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:12pm]

    

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