Make us your home page
Instagram

Crisis of confidence undermines the Florida Public Service Commission

When it comes to protections from soaring electricity rates, we're in deeper trouble than I thought.

And I thought we were already up to our necks.

In a visit Wednesday to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida Public Service Commission chairman Ron Brise offered a fumbling defense of his agency's oversight of Progress Energy's struggling nuclear ambitions.

The PSC is the state government agency meant to protect Floridians from gouging utility rates and lousy performance by our power companies. So far, it has blessed Progress' ongoing and hideously expensive $24 billion plan — financed by charging customers higher rates now — to perhaps build a nuclear power plant in Levy County by 2024 or later.

Gov. Charlie Crist named Brise, a former Democratic state representative from Miami, to the commission in July 2010. He became PSC chairman in December 2011.

Crist said Brise, 37, was "known for his willingness to fight for Floridians, which is exactly what the Public Service Commission should do."

Too bad that's not what the PSC actually does. And Brise said nothing at Wednesday's meeting to suggest that will change any time soon.

Why do Progress' residential and business customers pay roughly 25 percent more for electricity than nearby Florida Power & Light users?

Progress is a newer player in the state, Brise responded.

That argument does not hold water. The North Carolina company first entered Florida by purchasing St. Petersburg's Florida Power Corp. in 2000. It soon aggressively lowered electric rates, boasting it was a more efficient company. And those rates now? More than 40 percent higher and climbing.

What would have to happen for the PSC to halt such a high-priced nuclear plant?

That's a "tough one," Brise said. As long as the spending seems appropriate, he said, the "nuclear cost recovery" law that lets Progress Energy charge customers years in advance must be honored.

What's his take on Progress Energy's track record on maintenance and repairs after the utility broke Crystal River 3 — its sole nuclear power plant in the state, shuttered since 2009? Brise said the company has "serious challenges." But only benign hearings are scheduled in the coming months.

Should the PSC suggest legislative changes to add more muscle to its oversight of big utilities? "I do not believe, personally, it is my place to generate and create policy," he said.

One Brise remark rang true when asked if residents lose confidence in a state government that no longer appears to serve their interests.

"I believe there is a confidence issue at the PSC," one that's existed for years, he acknowledged.

To obscure its lack of accountability, the PSC uses its own haze of vocabulary.

It cites avoided costs that ensure, by its accounting, nuclear power plants can get endorsed while other alternative-energy plants do not.

It considers the prudency of proposed power plants but fails to grasp the lunacy of charging strapped Floridians today for a long-delayed and overpriced $24 billion plant.

Maybe the PSC should add baloney to its regulatory repertoire. Sure heard a lot of that tossed around.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Crisis of confidence undermines the Florida Public Service Commission 05/30/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 9:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.
[SCOTT KEELER  |  TIMES]

  3. Boho Hunter will target fashions in Hyde Park

    Business

    Boho Hunter, a boutique based in Miami's Wynwood District, will expand into Tampa with its very first franchise.

    Palma Canaria bags will be among the featured items at Boho Hunter when it opens in October. Photo courtesy of Boho Hunter.
  4. Gallery now bringing useful art to Hyde Park customers

    Business

    HYDE PARK — In 1998, Mike and Sue Shapiro opened a gallery in St. Petersburg along Central Ave., with a majority of the space dedicated to Sue's clay studio.

     As Sue Shapiro continued to work on her pottery in St. Petersburg, her retail space grew and her studio shrunk. Now Shapiro's is bringing wares like these to Hyde Park Village. Photo courtesy of Shapiro's.
  5. Appointments at Raymond James Bank and Saint Leo University highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers

    Business

    Banking

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jackson will oversee all of Raymond James Bank's operational business elements, risk management and strategic planning functions. Kackson joins Raymond James Bank after senior …

    Raymond James Bank has hired Grace Jackson to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer. [Company handout]