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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Utilities bill, deflated, moves ahead



A measure that would give private utilities another means for charging customers for new capital improvements passed out of committee today – but not before an amendment by Sen. Mike Fasano took much of the air from it.

 The bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, allows a private utility to charge customers up to 8 percent of its revenues a year to recover investments in capital projects that improve water quality. That would give utilities a new track – separate from the typical rate cases that go before the Public Service Commission -- for generating new revenue.
The original version of the bill said the PSC would have to approve the tariff if the utility met all the necessary filing requirements. Fasano and several others on the communications, energy and public utilities committee argued that language took state regulators out of the game.
“We’re taking the PSC almost completely out of this process,” said Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican.
The bill had strong support from Aqua Utilities, a private company that serves about 23,500 customers in 17 counties, including Pasco, and has a pending rate case before the PSC. The company sent a lawyer, a top Florida company official and a lobbyist to speak today on its behalf.
Bennett said the aim of the bill was much wider than Aqua, however, and was intended to encourage the 160 private utilities in the state to replace aging infrastructure. Currently, he said, many companies are dissuaded from making the investments because they have to try to recoup the costs later in uncertain rate cases before the Public Service Commission.
“I’ve got to tell you, folks, this is not about Aqua,” he said.
Fasano offered a handwritten amendment that said the PSC would still need to review and approve the new charges.
Aqua utilities lobbyist Cynthia Henderson said that essentially meant the utilities were back where they started.
“It basically nullifies what we’re doing,” said Henderson.
Bennett said he’d agree to the amendment.
The amended bill passed 10 to 4.
Bennett said later that he’d never meant to take away so much of the commission’s authority. He said the bill is still good even with the amendment because it would give utilities a chance to recoup investments before they actually finish them.

[Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 3:59pm]


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