1. Opinion

PSC chairman: Duke Energy settlement in best interests of all

As the chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission, I know that some of my decisions don't please all parties. But they do follow the statutes and balance the interests of the customers, other interested parties and companies, which is my charge as a commissioner.

Along with my fellow commissioners, I wrestled with the Duke Energy Florida settlement for the past 2½ months. My decision last week to approve a revised settlement agreement for Duke Energy was one of the toughest during my time at the commission, but I know it is in the best interest of all parties.

For the past several years, the events surrounding the upgrade of Duke's Crystal River 3 nuclear plant have continually weighed on my mind. While the resolutions in the revised settlement are not ideal, I know that these certainties are better than the unknowns without the settlement in place. Years of potential litigation, while customers continued to pay for not only CR3 but also the proposed nuclear project in Levy County, could have resulted in even higher customer rates.

The parties to the settlement, including the Office of Public Counsel (appointed by the Legislature as the voice for ratepayers, most of whom are residential), as well as representatives for small businesses, larger retailers, manufacturers and the utility, agreed that the revised settlement was the best resolution for all customers and the company for Duke's nuclear projects. Under the settlement, Duke Energy customers receive approximately $1.5 billion in credits and refunds, and customer expenditures are capped at approximately $1.5 billion for CR3. Duke Energy shareholders will pay $295 million toward CR3's remaining costs, a first for a Florida utility, and plans for the Levy project are terminated, saving customers and the company billions of dollars.

This case garnered a lot of public attention, and I want to assure all who are interested in this issue that commissioners listened and considered the hundreds of comments received via email, telephone and during public comment before the hearing last week. Due to the technical nature of the information that we are obligated to consider, public testimony is historically not a factor in these types of proceedings. However, I knew that it was important to hear from those who had traveled to attend the hearing. I heard your concerns. Indeed, I have family who are Duke Energy customers.

A revered former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, once said, "A good definition of an equitable settlement is one that will make both sides unhappy." The Duke Energy revised settlement fits that definition. It's an equitable settlement that is in the best interest of all parties.

Ronald Brisé is chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.