Florida Power & Light, public counsel spar over rate hike

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Florida utility regulators on Thursday said they want more information before deciding the fate of a rate settlement proposed by the state’s largest power generator, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Following an at-times testy exchange between the state’s consumer advocate and Florida Power & Light, the state Public Service Commission deferred action on the settlement agreement. FPL and some large power users announced the proposal last month just days before regulators started a hearing on an FPL plan to increase base rates by as much as $690.4 million next year.

The commission Thursday ordered PSC staff to temporarily halt work on FPL’s base-rate plan, which was filed in March and is awaiting final action. That will allow time to investigate a series of provisions incorporated into the settlement agreement, including provisions related to new facilities at FPL’s Port Everglades and Riviera Beach sites.

In a tersely written statement and subsequent discussion, state Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel urged the commission to reject the proposed settlement, saying it includes many last-minute additions that may hurt the “vast majority” of FPL’s 4.5 million customers.

“This proposal is not agreed to by the legal representative of 99.9 percent of FPL’s customers, which renders it effectively just a proposal that FPL negotiated with itself with some specific rate increase offset to the signators (the large power users),” Rehwinkel said.

Rehwinkel’s comments were countered by FPL attorney Wade Litchfield, who said the public counsel has taken an extreme position in opposing an agreement that has the support of many of the utility’s largest commercial clients and industrial power users.

The four-year agreement would provide much needed stability to all of FPL’s customers and provide incentives for the company to become even more cost effective, Litchfield said. The fact that the public counsel has not signed on is not by itself reason to reject the plan.

“The public counsel is not asking for due process,” Litchfield said. “They are asking that no process be had.”

FPL reached the proposed agreement with the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, federal-government agencies and the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association. Together the groups represent some of FPL’s largest customers

The public counsel is a state office that represents consumers in utility cases. The Florida Retail Federation also opposes the plan.

FPL contends that the proposed settlement would lead to lower base-rate increases in 2013 than in the original plan filed earlier this year. But the public counsel has argued that FPL’s rates should decrease in 2013 — not increase.

On Thursday, the commission agreed to schedule evidentiary hearings on issues involved in the proposed settlement. Commission Chairman Ronald Brise’ is expected to release a hearing schedule shortly.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.