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Jack Latvala says bill may put PSC over local utilities

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State Sen. Jack Latvala, his chamber’s next budget chief, Friday said he might file legislation for next year to put municipal utilities under the supervision of the state’s Public Service Commission.

“I think you’re going to see a bill dealing with the municipalities that are currently not supervised by anybody above them, in terms of their (storm) preparedness, their rates,” he told reporters in Tallahassee.

The commission already oversees investor-owned utilities, including rate increase requests.

But the head of the organization representing municipal electric utilities said they already are well regulated by the cities they serve or by separate utility authorities.

Earlier this month, Latvala — a Clearwater Republican — said he was considering legislative action to address the City of Tallahassee’s response to Hurricane Hermine.

Specifically, he said he questions whether community-based power operations — such as City of Tallahassee Utilities — are positioned as well as they could be to recover after major storms.

Hermine, a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, knocked out electric service to hundreds of thousands across North Florida, including nearly 68,000 in Tallahassee alone. About 90 percent of customers had power restored in six days.  

Latvala used Vero Beach as an example, where he said 60 percent of utility customers live outside the city limits and don’t have a say in utility governance.

“There will very likely be some legislation that will … maybe put the municipals under the purview of the Public Service Commission,” he said. “Maybe the bill will just put emergency preparedness under the PSC. I don’t know yet.”

Barry Moline, director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said Kissimmee, Orlando, and Lakeland, for example, have put non-resident utility customers on their utility system’s governing boards.

Vero Beach has the same opportunity to do so and has so far declined, he said.

As to further oversight, Moline added that the PSC already regulates municipal utilities on “storm hardening” and when they seek to build new power plants.  

“And our rates are already regulated by local governments all over Florida,” he said.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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