News from Tallahassee for 12/22/14

Gov. Rick Scott appoints lawmaker to Public Service Commission posted on 9/19/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE— Four years after the state Senate rejected two of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s appointees to the Public Service Commission because they had no industry experience, Gov. Rick Scott has appointed state Rep. Jimmy Patronis to the same board, even though he, too, has no industry experience.

Patronis, 42, is a Panama City Republican who announced last year that he will step aside as a candidate in 2016 for the state Senate seat held by Senate President Don Gaetz, making room for Gaetz’s son, Matt Gaetz, to be the heir apparent. Patronis was also an early supporter of Scott's campaign against former Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Patronis, who is term-limited out of office this year, fills a seat now held by Eduardo Balbis on the board that has the power to approve utility rates in Florida. Balbis surprised observers in May when he announced that he would not seek a second term after being appointed to the post by Crist.

Balbis got the job after legislators sided with electric companies in 2010 to oust Crist appointees David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, both of whom rejected controversial rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy Florida.

On Thursday, Scott also announced the reappointment of Tampa lawyer Julie Imanuel Brown, 39, from a list of six candidates sent to him by the legislatively-controlled PSC Nominating Council.

Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $131,036 and the appointments are subject to Senate approval.

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Court upholds PSC decision in FPL rate agreement posted on 8/29/14

by Susan Salisbury | Palm Beach Post

Tallahassee — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Florida Power & Light Co.’s rate increase settlement.

In a unanimous decision, the court denied an appeal of state regulators’ approval of the FPL settlement deal that led to a $350 million rate increase, even though the Office of Public Counsel did not agree to the settlement.

The Florida director of a clean energy group called the ruling outrageous.

“The fact that they would allow an important rate case to be decided without any involvement from consumer advocates is beyond the pale of what we’ve seen from a slew of policies that benefit the utilities,” Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said.

“Now it is completely and utterly clear that the Florida Supreme Court is making decisions that are only in the best interests of the big utilities. The public needs to ask loudly, why. The public should grab their pitchforks and come to Tallahassee,” Glickman said.

In April 2013, Public Counsel J.R. Kelly appealed the Public Service Commission’s December 2012 approval of the base rate increase, saying that his office was bypassed in the settlement FPL reached with large power users. The public counsel, a state agency created by the Florida Legislature, represents all ratepayers who are customers of regulated utilities.

In a 63-page opinion, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that the PSC did not err in approving the settlement. The public counsel’s objection of the PSC’s approval is without merit, he wrote, because the commission independently determines rates for utilities.

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Duke Energy saps customers, senator says posted on 8/22/14

by josh boatwright | tampa tribune

ST. PETERSBURG — Duke Energy officials say the longer billing cycle and higher rates appearing on thousands of customers’ bills this month are a one-time hassle that will make business more efficient as they change travel routes for power meter reading.

Florida Sen. Jack Latvala on Thursday accused the utility of cashing in on 267,000 customers whose bills could be lengthened by up to 12 days during one of the hottest months of the year.

“Although it may be legal for utility companies to squeeze additional money from customers in this manner, it certainly isn’t moral,” the Clearwater Republican wrote in a letter to Duke President Alexander Glenn.

The utility maintains the change in billing is industry standard practice as workers change their meter-reading routes to cut down on travel.

The side effect for customers is the shift in dates will mean the number of days on their next bill could exceed the typical 24-31 day cycle.

While some customers will have a shorter billing cycle, the added days for others could drive their electricity usage above the standard usage rate of $11.34 per 100 kilowatt hours.

After surpassing 1,000, the rate goes up to $13.70 per 100 kilowatt hours, which could add up quickly in a month of constant air conditioning use.

“Almost 60 percent of the customers in Pinellas County won’t see any change. They’ll either have a bill that has fewer days on it or a normal bill,” said Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey, adding that the irregular cycle will only appear on one bill. “The remaining 40 percent will have a bill that might have extended days on it.”

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by Bruce Ritchie |

Turkey Point Power PlantScientists who met Tuesday with Gov. Rick Scott to explain the threat of climate change said the governor asked only modest questions while withholding comment on the issue.

“He asked modest questions but he did not ask questions that reflected his understanding of the material,” Eckerd College Professor David Hastings said. “Nor was there any reflection of the position he is going to take.”

Ten Florida scientists in July requested the meeting with Scott after the governor in May answered questions from reporters about whether he accepted climate change as real by responding, “I’m not a scientist.”

During the 30-minute meeting on Tuesday, Hastings and four other scientists said Florida is vulnerable to sea level rise resulting from climate change and should publicly develop a response to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule to reduce carbon pollution. Hastings called the EPA plan “forward-thinking.”

Scott left the meeting in the governor’s office without responding to reporters’ questions. A spokesman said the governor left for a staff meeting.

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FPL gets OK for voluntary solar-energy fee posted on 8/14/14


TALLAHASSEE — State regulators have approved a program that will allow Florida Power & Light customers to voluntarily chip in $9 a month to help pay for solar-energy projects, despite opposition from two groups that work to expand the use of solar power.

FPL said the three-year pilot program is a way for a wide range of customers to participate in solar projects. Company attorney Maria Moncada told the state Public Service Commission on Tuesday that many customers cannot install rooftop solar panels because of the costs or other factors such as not owning their homes.

The company said it would not increase costs for customers who do not want to participate.

The commission approved the pilot program but not before FPL faced a series of questions from regulators and opposition from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Vote Solar, two groups that promote solar energy.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, issued a statement after the commission meeting saying, in part, that the program would "do nothing to advance solar energy in the Sunshine State."

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