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Energy bill tactics left senators in the dark

I thought your readers might benefit from an insider's perspective of Tampa Bay Times staff writer Ivan Penn's insightful piece about Progress Energy's contemplated nuclear plant construction (An atomic money grab, March 11).

Full disclosure: I was one of the state senators who voted for this execrable piece of legislation in 2006. I did so unaware that the bill I had read had been amended in an unaffilliated committee by then-Sen. Jeff Atwater, now Florida's chief financial officer, at the behest of the bill's sponsor, Sen. Lee Constantine. My vote relied on the bill's sponsor, in what was the collegial convention, to advise as he brought the bill to the floor of changes that had been made since its emergence from its substantive committee. In 2009, I checked the video of the floor presentation. Constantine made no mention that a potential intergenerational transfer of billions of dollars was in the works.

Frankly, the only Senate members potentially with knowledge of the scope and impact of the amendment were those sitting on the Ways and Means Committee: Sens. Al Lawson, JD Alexander, Mike Fasano, Atwater, Skip Campbell, Charlie Clary, Victor Crist, Jim King, Gwen Margolis, Ken Pruitt, Burt Saunders, Rod Smith, Alex Villalobos, vice chair Les Miller and chairwoman Lisa Carlton. There was no mention of prepay costs recovery on the Senate floor. Had there been, that might have alerted some senators of the major policy shift and that the fox was in the henhouse.

In all likelihood, however, the sophistication of the amendatory language — it could have been written only by the Florida Public Service Commission or the industry, and the PSC, I determined later, did not write it — would have escaped most members.

Penn did not touch on one of the more egregious results of the legislation. It removed any responsibility for prudence or reasonable oversight on the part of the company in arranging financing, in the viability of the project, or in the arrangement of an efficient construction schedule. They had been given carte blanche, and they took it, fettered only by the pig factor — when the exercise of greed is so great it becomes embarrassing.

The legislation had many good provisions, such as moving toward alternative energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, etc. I read the bill after passage from its substantive committees. I did not agree with all of it, but liked much. It should not have been changed in the Ways and Means Committee to alter substantive policy.

The PSC was given one small chance to marginally restrain the costs, in denying prepayment for lining up to order a reactor. On the PSC at the time, I was the only vote against it. The major argument was that the Legislature obviously intended to grant the broadest latitude of interpretation of what constituted "preconstruction costs." I appreciate Fasano's efforts in trying to change that law.

Now, multiply this a thousand times, and be advised that this is how public policy is implemented in Florida.

Nancy Argenziano is a former state senator from Dunnellon and a former member of the Florida Public Service Commission.

Energy bill tactics left senators in the dark 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 6:22pm]
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