Friday, November 17, 2017
Business

Animosity lingers over how FPL rate deal went down

RECOMMENDED READING


Animosity continued to fester Monday over regulators' approval of a $350 million rate increase for customers of Florida's largest utility, a deal that critics say bypassed the state's top consumer advocate.

Florida Power & Light, which serves much of South Florida, defended the deal reached with the Public Service Commission, saying state public counsel J.R. Kelly was given the opportunity to discuss the utility's rate proposal, but he declined.

"The president of our company tried to sit down with J.R. Kelly and he refused," FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday.

Kelly, who represents consumers before the PSC, said he is always willing to meet with the parties involved in utility rate cases and denied ever refusing to discuss the matter. FPL ultimately handed him a settlement agreement and said "sign this or else," he said.

The notion that FPL gave him an opportunity to meet and negotiate "is a flat-out lie," Kelly said. "I have never refused to sit down with anybody."

On Thursday, the PSC approved a base rate increase for FPL's more than 4 million customers, totalling $350 million. But customer bills will run about 37 cents per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage lower beginning Jan. 1 due, in part, to reductions in the volatile fuel rate.

FPL customers currently pay $94.62 per 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage. Their rate drops to $94.25 for 2013 — the lowest among the state's three largest investor owned utilities.

Progress Energy rates will be the highest among the three at $116.06, followed by Tampa Electric at $102.58. Lower natural gas prices have helped lower the rates for all three utilities.

Despite the lower overall rate, Kelly says FPL customers have little to celebrate.

Any increase in natural gas prices — combined with the $350 million increase in the base rate — could cause a spike in monthly bills. Kelly said he had hoped to negotiate a better agreement, but FPL took the unprecedented step of entering a settlement agreement with large power users while excluding his office.

The big power users, including the Florida Industrial Power Users Group and the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, opposed FPL's initial rate proposal.

They dropped their opposition after FPL, among other things, agreed to allow them millions of dollars in credits.

Those credits are another source of contention.

Kelly says his office calculated that the companies would realize a total of about $50 million in credits.

Bubriski says the number is $20 million, as indicated in documents he sent to the Times. FPL worked hard to ensure that all of its customers received some benefits, which shows in the lower overall rate rather than simply looking at the $350 million base rate increase, he said.

FPL's initial agreement with the big power users prompted Kelly to file a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court to block the PSC from considering the agreement. He argued that the commission should not be allowed to consider any agreement without the state-designated consumer advocate. The court sent the case to the First District Court of Appeal, which denied Kelly's petition without explanation.

On Thursday, the PSC agreed to the rate increase, at a lower level than that first proposed by FPL.

The decision prompted AARP and some state lawmakers to criticize the PSC for favoring the utilities over Floridians. The critics attributed the positive treatment of FPL to the campaign contributions the utility has given to politicians in Tallahassee.

Bubriski denied any particular favoritism. He said the commission often disagrees with the public counsel's office. But, in this case, he said, the deal was a win for everyone.

"This agreement was developed after months of negotiations," Bubriski said. "In the end, this is a good deal for all of our customers to help keep their bills the lowest in the state, to continue to provide clean and more efficient energy."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] (727) 892-2332.

Comments
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

The tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long lived, as predicted by economists. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Fri...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Updated: 5 hours ago
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Before you hit the mall: here are some key holiday shopping hours

Plotting a shopping strategy for the holiday weekend? Here’s a look at holiday store opening hours for some major retailers:Thanksgiving8 a.m.: Kmart1 p.m.: JCPenney4 p.m.: GameStop5 p.m.: Best Buy, Macy’s, Toys "R" Us, Kohl’s6 p.m.: Old Navy, Target...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

Electric, autonomous vehicles featured at Tampa auto show

TAMPA — The two biggest trends in the automotive space are ones you’ve likely heard of: electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Both will feature prominently at the Tampa Bay International Auto Show today through Sunday. The event at the ...
Published: 11/17/17
Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

LARGO — Driving down West Bay Drive, you may notice some changes to downtown Largo.A new 29-unit apartment complex on Ridge Road stands finished and ready for residents. South of the complex, land that was formerly home to a community of rundown cott...
Published: 11/17/17
New vegan prepares for Thanksgiving with meat loving family

New vegan prepares for Thanksgiving with meat loving family

This will be my first Thanksgiving as a vegan. And, I’m nervous.It’s also first time back in my hometown of Milwaukee in five years. In a three-day span, I will visit at least 15 different relatives’ houses. All of whom welcome you in with a smile, a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare

Despite the budget cuts, the attempts to repeal and replace, and reports of sharp rises in premiums, Floridians and other Americans are signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at record rates this year.Enrollment has surged 47 p...
Updated: 6 hours ago
A Santa flight academy? Malls pull out stops to counter online shopping

A Santa flight academy? Malls pull out stops to counter online shopping

TAMPA — One of Santa’s helpers warns the grown ups to stand back. Sawyer Baker is about to be fitted for his virtual flight academy suit.The four-year-old from Safety Harbor holds his arms straight out, just like he’s told, and sees a moving, mirror ...
Updated: 6 hours ago