Make us your home page

Bill would shift control of state utility watchdog to governor, Cabinet

TALLAHASSEE — The independent consumer watchdog over state utility regulators is once again under fire.

House leaders have tucked into a broad energy bill a proposal to remove the Office of Public Counsel from the control of the Legislature and shift it under the control of the governor and Cabinet serving as the Financial Services Commission.

The public counsel serves as the consumer's lawyer in rate cases before the Public Service Commission and, since its establishment in the early 1970s, has been under the control of the Legislature.

But the state's powerful utility companies haven't always been happy with the way the public counsel operates. For example, lawyers for the public counsel have argued against rate increases, asked embarrassing questions of the utility giants and challenged their expert witnesses.

Every year for the past three years, the Office of Public Counsel has come under fire by lawmakers. In 2010, when the head of the Office of Public Counsel, J.R. Kelly, was opposing rate increases by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, legislators threatened to make Kelly reapply for his job.

In 2011, when Kelly's office was investigating Progress Energy's botched repairs to its Crystal River power plant, legislators suggested moving his office under the attorney general. And this year, as Kelly's office continues to investigate Progress for its nuclear project and gears up to challenge another rate increase request by FPL, the Legislature again is suggesting his office be moved.

"Putting it under the Financial Services Commission gives it a higher profile,'' said Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Committee. He said he wasn't sure where the idea to move the public counsel came from but he thought it was a good one and included it in his committee bill. He believes the move would not only give the office greater oversight and more accountability but will also make it less political.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, disagreed. "I think it makes it more political,'' he said, noting that the governor and Cabinet members, such as the attorney general, also can collect campaign contributions from the industry, just as legislators can.

Susan Glickman, a lobbyist with the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy, which has been at odds with the Public Service Commission on the way it has passed rate increases for nuclear costs but failed to maximize energy efficiency, said she hoped the public counsel would become more aggressive at protecting customers if it were given a higher profile.

She noted, for example, that the office has been silent about asking legislators to reconsider a 2006 nuclear-cost recovery law that has resulted in more than $1 billion in customer charges with no promise that a nuclear plant will be built.

"We hope that by moving the public counsel out of the Legislature's control, it will insulate consumers from the politics that so often drives energy issues,'' Glickman said. "The Cabinet is likely to be more responsive to ratepayers' interests and less beholden to the power companies' influence."

Under the Legislature's agreement with him, Kelly is not allowed to lobby and could not comment on the proposal. The public counsel shift was included in a bill by the House Energy & Utilities Committee that would renew tax incentives to businesses and homeowners that invest in renewable energy. The Senate Communities, Energy and Utilities Committee approved a similar bill on Monday.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at

Bill would shift control of state utility watchdog to governor, Cabinet 02/06/12 [Last modified: Monday, February 6, 2012 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa is 15th-most popular city to move to with U-Haul


    TAMPA —Tampa is undoubtedly a destination point, at least according to U-Haul.

    Tampa is the No. 15 destination for people moving with U-Haul trucks. | Times file photo
  2. Florida's economy growing faster than other big states and far better than U.S. overall


    When it comes to economic growth, Florida's running alongside the leading states and well ahead of the United States as a whole.

  3. Westshore Marina District project takes shape with another acquisition

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — One of Tampa Bay's prime waterfront areas took another major step toward redevelopment Friday as WCI Communities bought 2.35 acres in Westshore Marina District.

    WCI Communities, Lennar's high-end subsidiary,has paid $2.5 million for 2.35 acres in the Westshore Marina District for 35 townhomes. WCI is under contract  to buy an additional 9.5 acres.
[BTI Partners]
  4. Posh Guy Harvey RV park to open in Tampa Bay with $250,000 cottages


    HOLIDAY — Love those Guy Harvey T-shirts with the soaring marlins? In the not too distant future, you might be able to kick back in your own Guy Harvey cottage in the first-ever Guy Harvey RV park.

    Renderings of the clubhouse and an RV cottage site of the planned Guy Harvey Outpost Club & Resort Tarpon Springs.
[Guy Harvey Outpost Collection]
  5. Port Tampa Bay secures $9 million grant to deepen Big Bend Channel


    Port Tampa Bay has secured a $9 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the widening and deepening of the Big Bend Channel in southern Hillsborough County.