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Man bites dog; Florida PSC rejects electric rate hike

Holy shamoley! This is a turning point.

Our state's second-biggest electric company, Progress Energy Florida, went to Tallahassee asking for a $500 million rate increase …

And got its patootie kicked. On Monday the state Public Service Commission slashed the company's proposed rate of profit to keep things about where they are now.

To be exact, the PSC set an allowed rate of return for Progress of 10.5 percent, two full points lower than the 12.54 percent request.

The PSC even went below its own staff's recommendation of 11.25 percent, which would have meant about $180 million more a year.

Compare this decision to last year's, when the commission was ruling on a rate request from Tampa Electric Co. To the dismay of consumer advocates in that case, the PSC went above the staff recommendation.

Since then, however, we've seen various scandals at the commission, and two new members appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist as part of a housecleaning.

Both of the new members, Ben A. Stevens III and David Klement, were part of Monday's unanimous vote for 10.5 percent — with Stevens saying he would have been perfectly willing to go to 9.

Member Nathan Skop proposed the 10.5 percent, Chairman Nancy Argenziano supported it, and even member Lisa Polak Edgar went along, although she fretted that the decision was shortsighted.

This has to be worrisome if you're Florida Power & Light Co., the state's biggest electric company, which has its own rate case on Wednesday.

Only half-jokingly, I wonder what kind of strings the electric companies will try to pull with their friends in the Legislature, now that they're on a losing streak.

After all, when this kind of thing happened in the mid 1990s to Florida's telephone companies, they simply got the Legislature to take away the PSC's power to regulate telephone profits. I doubt the electric companies could go that far, but you never know …

• • •

Elsewhere:

• Is there anybody who hasn't hired a lawyer in the firing of USF football coach Jim Leavitt? I was thinkin' of picking one up just in case.

• The police union in Tampa is picketing City Council members who didn't vote for a police raise, calling them "the criminal's best friend." Is that the yardstick? Give the police union whatever it wants, even in a budget crisis with 10 percent-plus unemployment in the community, or else you support criminals?

• I confess to cheering at the news that lottery sales are down. Once a supporter of the idea, these days I have a strong distaste for it — and its never-ending schemes to get people to spend more money — because it has made education funding in our state worse, not better. Let people gamble all they want in the private sector and tax it. But government-run gambling is no way to pay for a democracy.

• If you're interested in a big statewide protest against oil drilling in Florida waters, check out this Web site: handsacrossthesand.net.

This group is planning a protest on Florida's beaches on Feb. 13. (In fairness, if you are planning a big statewide protest on Florida's beaches in favor of oil drilling, I'll print that one, too.)

• Just remember that it's supposed to be in the upper 60s, at least, by week's end. So, see, things are basically good.

Man bites dog; Florida PSC rejects electric rate hike 01/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 11:15pm]
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