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Senate passes Duke/PSC bill after House rejected amendments

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The Senate on Wednesday voted to strip off amendments it passed to a bill involving Duke Energy Florida and financing for its Crystal River nuclear plant and sent the bill to the governor.

HB 7109 would allow Duke Energy to issue bonds to cover $1.4 billion in operating costs prior to the shutdown of its Crystal River nuclear plant. Sen. Jack Latvala, sponsor of the Senate companion bill, said the legislation would save Duke customers $600 million over 20 years.

But amendments made by the Senate to the bill, which involves the Public Service Commission, were rejected by the House. They included requirements to hold PSC hearings every other year in each of the four largest utilities service areas and that the Office of Public Counsel be included as a party in rate settlements.

With the House having adjourned on Tuesday, Latvala told the Senate on Wednesday that only one of the four utilities objected to those amendments — and that led the House to reject the amendment. He didn’t say which utility.

“I thought it was important to put on the record to say how proud I am of this Senate,” Latvala said, “that we made our decisions based on what’s good for the people of the state of Florida the people that pay these electric bills and not the folks that make political contributions.”

The bill passed 40-0 and now is headed to the governor.

After the Senate adjourned for they day, Latvala told Floridapolitics.com that Florida Power & Light Co. was the utility that lobbied against the amendments.

FPL was a party to a 2012 rate settlement that the Office of Public Counsel, representing ratepayers, objected to. The Florida Supreme Court in 2014 upheld the settlement.

The company issued a statement on Wednesday confirming that it opposed amendments requiring the meetings and that the Office of Public Counsel agree to rate case settlements.

When the House took up the bill on Tuesday, Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican from St. Cloud, said the requirement for the meetings around the state was brought up in committee and he didn’t think it was necessary.

“I felt if we held one meeting in a large rate-based territory it could possible leave many ratepayers out of the meeting process,” La Rosa said.

Latvala said he had proposed holding meetings every year but agreed to hold it every other year as a compromise offer.

“My question is, what are they scared of?” Latvala asked of the utility that objected. “Why do they not want the Public Service Commission to come into their area periodically to let the customers tell them what they think of their service, what they think of their rates?”

FPL spokesperson Mark Bubriski, in an email to Florida Politics, counters Latvala’s question by noting that in the last 10 years, the PSC held 35 hearings in FPL’s service area alone, far more than what the amendment attempts to mandate.

“While this legislation was largely targeted at one region of the state,” Brubiski added, “we never objected to it. FPL’s record speaks for itself – the lowest typical customer bills, cleanest emissions profile, strong reliability and award-winning customer service.

“That’s what we believe matters to our customers, and we’re always happy to hear from them – no hearing required.”

As for the OPC settlement requirement, FPL has long opposed the idea. In 2012, after OPC took the settlement to the Florida Supreme Court, justices ruled that agency did not have veto power. Utility industry officials believe a settlement requirement does not guarantee a better result. In fact, one source said, a previously agreed upon stettlement between Duke Energy and the OPC resulted in higher rate increases for utility consumers than other plans previously rejected by the OPC.

James Call contributed to this report. Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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