Monday, April 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida Supreme Court should not silence voice of utility ratepayers

The likelihood of Florida electric customers getting a fair shake when utility companies seek a rate increase is about as low as seeing a Florida panther, and the odds may soon get worse. The Public Service Commission is packed with industry-friendly commissioners, and Gov. Rick Scott has recently reappointed three of the incumbents. That leaves the public counsel, who represents ratepayers before the PSC, as the lonely voice battling Goliaths such as Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light when they want more from consumers' pockets. Now a case before the Florida Supreme Court could weaken the public counsel's hand when rate increases are negotiated in back-room deals and rubber-stamped by the PSC. The court should affirm the public counsel's ability to protect the public by requiring his approval on rate case settlements.

The deck is badly stacked against average utility customers. The Legislature and the PSC routinely acquiesce to the state's major utilities even when they seek to pass on the costs of their own mismanagement. Prime examples are Duke Energy's (formerly Progress Energy) botched repairs on the closed Crystal River nuclear power plant, and its abandoned plan to build a nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company's customers will be soaked for billions of dollars for these avoidable mistakes, and the PSC's claim that its hands are tied by state law is a convenient excuse to look the other way.

The dispute heard this month by the Florida Supreme Court involves the $350 million rate increase for FP&L approved by the PSC in 2012. The approval is being challenged by public counsel J.R. Kelly, the attorney who represents ratepayers as a consumer watchdog before the PSC.

Kelly has valid reasons to question the settlement. The process was flawed. Rather than provide a full rate hearing, the PSC approved a settlement that had been negotiated by FP&L and the utility's major industrial users. Meanwhile, 99 percent of FP&L's 4.6 million customers were not a party to the agreement but would get socked with higher electric bills.

Rates would go up in 2013 and then automatically in 2014 and 2016 as new power plants become operational. The public counsel objected, but for the first time the PSC approved the settlement over those objections. The danger is that the PSC will be allowed to rubber-stamp deals that benefit powerful interests and are opposed by the public counsel without the transparency or accountability of a full rate hearing. In this case, the public counsel analyzed FPL's financial projections and found that rates should be reduced, not increased. But that didn't sway the regulators.

Arguably, there is enough wiggle room in the public counsel's legal authority to ensure that he signs off on agreements that short-circuit the normal process for approving rate increases. The court should read this authority in the broadest possible light. The people's voice at the PSC should not be silenced. It should be amplified.

Comments

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18