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For utility, effort to raise rates is a costly endeavor

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Power & Light has spent nearly $5 million trying to raise customers' electric rates.

Expenses for the state's largest utility to make its case to state regulators include about $173,000 on business meals, $266,000 on lodging, $622,000 on legal fees and $870,000 for overtime pay, according to documents filed at the Public Service Commission.

And that's $1.3 million more than the company had budgeted for the rate case when it filed for the 30 percent base rate increase in March.

Customers won't have to pay the entire $5 million tab. FPL is asking the PSC to rule that customers pay $3.6 million, with the rest paid by shareholder profits.

The hearing before the PSC, originally scheduled to end in September, has run into overtime with the state panel embroiled in controversy over allegations of its close ties to FPL.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who has vowed to "clean house" at the PSC, on Thursday named David Klement to the commission to fill the unexpired term of Katrina McMurrian, who resigned after the governor didn't reappoint her. Klement will begin work Tuesday.

Another new commissioner, Benjamin "Steve" Stevens, will begin work in January when commission chairman Matthew Carter's term runs out.

But as FPL fights to increase rates by $1.3 billion a year, at least one of the panel's four commissioners Thursday questioned the company's commitment to providing good service.

Commissioner Nathan Skop noted a 14-page FPL document that detailed the company's efforts to line up customers to speak favorably about its service at two public hearings in Broward County in the summer in anticipation of the rate case. He wondered if FPL was paying more attention to favorable reviews than unhappy customers.

"Wouldn't it be more constructive to resolve people's problems than to develop these relationships in the community?" Skop asked Marlene Santos, FPL's vice president of customer service. "I see something like this and frankly, I'm speechless. It's embarrassing."

Commissioner Nancy Argenziano recalled sitting through hours of positive testimony before speakers who had negative experiences spoke.

"It was very, very lopsided, and that makes me think you were trying to crowd out the negative," she said.

For utility, effort to raise rates is a costly endeavor 10/22/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 9:42am]
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