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Romano: Lawmakers find their voice on Duke Energy — right before election

My, my, my.

Such outrage. Such indignation. Such a load of bull.

The past few weeks have brought a parade of elected officials stumbling over one another for a chance to snipe and sneer at one of the local power companies.

And, make no mistake, their whining had an impact.

With a growing crew of politicians backing them for the first time since the discovery of the kilowatt, the invertebrates on the Public Service Commission actually stood up for consumers on Thursday and ordered Duke Energy to provide a $54 million refund.

Hip, hip, hooray!

Now what about the other $3.2 billion?

You see, that's what's so disturbing about this whole charade. Along with being far too late, it is much too little.

Everyone has known for years that Duke was behaving badly, and folks in Tallahassee were either too scared or too complicit to utter a peep.

They knew that Duke was collecting money for nuclear plants that were never going to be built or repaired. They knew that Duke was turning a profit even while throwing your money at these somewhere-over-the-rainbow plans. And they actually conspired to help Duke keep details of this scam off your electric bills.

So why did your politicians wait until now to speak up?

Gee, you don't suppose it has anything to do with ballots for a November election being mailed out recently?

"I'm a little cynical,'' said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano. "I'm pleased to see that more and more legislators are speaking out on behalf of consumers, but my concern is will that same outrage against Duke be there after the election?''

If anyone deserves to be cynical, it is Fasano.

Along with about 99.9 percent of state legislators in 2006, Fasano once voted in favor of the nuclear cost recovery fee that has turned into an eternal trust fund for utilities. The difference with Fasano is that he regretted it almost immediately. He routinely drew up legislation to repeal the fee but could never get it heard in committees.

So when a handful of senators, including Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and John Legg, R-Trinity, produced a bill in 2013 that would have at least put a crimp in the fee, Fasano was prepared to embrace it.

And then he watched in horror as the state House, under the leadership of Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, methodically gutted the bill.

Fasano, along with Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, stood on the House floor in April 2013 and implored members not to abandon their constituents.

They pointed out how the power companies were not being held accountable. They pointed out how customers were being charged for energy that would never be delivered. They pointed out how utilities were not even required to itemize the charge on bills.

Yet no one else seemed to care.

That includes Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, and Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, who are now practicing mad-as-heck glares at Duke, along with Attorney General Pam Bondi, who did her own drive-by tsk-tsk last week.

Legislation is being drawn up to address a handful of minor Duke abuses, but the nuclear goose will continue popping out gold.

"The issues we're talking about now are small potatoes compared to the nuclear cost recovery,'' said Fasano, a longtime Republican. "Nothing will change significantly until the House GOP leadership comes up with the courage to take that on.

"Until then, this is almost laughable.''

It's too late for Weatherford. He pretty much left the lights on and the meter perpetually ticking for Duke when he left Tallahassee in the spring.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R- Trinity, is moving up the House leadership ranks, but he is one of the few bay area lawmakers who hasn't been waving from the anti-Duke bandwagon.

In other words, once the election is over, Duke will again have all the power.

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