Commissioner grilled over advance nuclear fee, then okayed for third term

Published April 16, 2013

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee grilled Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar on Monday about the regulatory board's role in charging customers a nuclear cost fee and then voted to unanimously to approve her for a third term.

Edgar, who is the commission's longest-serving member, said she believes that consumers have been well served by the commission and the 2006 law that allows consumers to be charged a fee to pay for nuclear plant development in advance of the plants being built.

"If those projects go online, then consumers here in Florida will have saved millions and millions, and maybe even billions, over the course of the project,'' she said.

During Edgar's term, the commission has identified the need for two additional nuclear power plants and gave Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy the ability to charge customers in advance for them.

But the measures have proved politically unpopular as Progress Energy, for example, has collected millions of dollars from customers but has indefinitely postponed plans to build its nuclear plant. As a result, Florida legislators are pushing legislation this session that will limit the use of the nuclear fee for future projects and impose new rules.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, asked Edgar if she believes the commission has the "authority to protect the consumers' interest."

Edgar responded that the 2006 law "does tie our hands to a degree, and I do believe we have broad authority to act in the public interest."

Committee chairman Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, asked Edgar if she and her staff have engaged in conversations with utility executives about pending issues behind closed doors.

Edgar, whose testimony was under oath, acknowledged it is an allegation that has surfaced repeatedly and, although she has had casual and social conversations with utility officials, she denied any so-called "ex parte" conversations that could benefit one party.

"I am not aware of it ever happening at the commission during my time there,'' she said.

Edgar was first appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and has subsequently been reappointed to the post by former Gov. Charlie Crist and Gov. Rick Scott. She must receive the confirmation of the full Senate to remain on the panel. The committee voted unanimously to give Edgar a third term on the commission.

The committee also gave approval to several of Scott's agency heads, including Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Department of Management Services Secretary Craig Nichols, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Mike Prendergast and Florida Elections Commissioner Barbra Stern.