News from Tallahassee for 1/29/15

Is The Fifth Time The Charm For A Nuclear Cost Recovery Repeal? A North Florida Lawmaker Hopes So posted on 10/2/14

by Regan McCarthy | WFSU

A Tallahassee lawmaker is pushing once again to repeal the state’s nuclear cost recovery clause. State Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) says she plans to file her repeal for the fifth time in a row. Rehwinkel Vasilinda says lawmakers have made changes to the rule in the past years in an attempt to quiet voters’ concerns. But so far, she says, that hasn’t worked.

“Now we still have consumer voices being very loud and talking about the fairness of the issue and how to make rates more fair,” Rehwinkel Vasilinda says.

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Utility, Foes of 'Smart Meters' Square Off posted on 10/1/14

by News Service of Florida

State regulators Tuesday took up a dispute about a Florida Power & Light plan to collect extra money from thousands of customers who refuse to allow "smart" meters to gauge electricity use.

The dispute involves only a fraction of FPL's customers, but it is part of a broader controversy in which critics say they worry the new meter technology could pose threats to their privacy or health.

The state Public Service Commission earlier this year agreed to allow FPL to collect a $95 "enrollment" fee and $13-a-month surcharges from customers who won't allow smart meters at their homes. But that prompted customer challenges, which led to a hearing that lasted throughout the day Tuesday and was expected to continue into the evening.

FPL in recent years has installed about 4.5 million smart meters, which in part allow electricity use to be monitored remotely. The utility contends that older-style meters are now "non-standard" and that people who choose to use those meters should pay extra to cover costs such as meter reading. Without those extra charges, FPL says other customers would have to help pick up the tab.

Robert Onsgard, an FPL project manager, testified during Tuesday's hearing that the utility has worked hard to make sure the charges are "fair and reasonable."

But attorneys for the consumers spent hours questioning Onsgard and another FPL witness, Terry Deason, about the validity of the charges. For instance, Nathan Skop, an attorney for Loxahatchee residents Daniel and Alexandria Larson, compared the charges to earlier FPL projections about cost savings from new metering --- projections that he said had not been met.

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Duke Energy Florida under increasing fire during pivotal week posted on 9/30/14

by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

In a pivotal week for Duke Energy Florida, state lawmakers are targeting the utility with a series of proposals to bolster consumer protection and prevent unbridled spending of ratepayer dollars.

State Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, on Monday announced the latest effort that would end the increasingly controversial "nuclear advance fee" that allows utilities to collect from ratepayers for new plants before they produce power.

Duke has been collecting $3.2 billion from its 1.7 million Florida customers for two failed nuclear projects with much of the money paid through the fee. Neither nuclear project will provide a kilowatt of electricity for the billions customers are paying.

Dean also intends to file a bill to remedy billing problems Duke caused customers during a rerouting project for the utility's meter reading system. Duke is refunding $928,000 to 165,000 customers because the change in the system had the "unintended" consequence of bumping them into a higher rate tier.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate to bring these bills to fruition and to protect our constituents from these practices," Dean said in a news release.

Dean's announcement came a day before Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, Pinellas County's most powerful legislator, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, are scheduled to announce legislation to rein in Duke and the Public Service Commission.

They are joined by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who on Friday threatened to file his own legislation after a Tampa Bay Times report last week. That report pointed to decisions the PCS will make on Thursday about Duke and hundreds of millions of dollars more of ratepayer money.

In particular, the PSC is deciding whether to approve $1.5 billion for a natural gas plant Duke wants to build in place of the failed nuclear projects.

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Lawmakers set to introduce legislation for tougher regulation of Florida utilities posted on 9/26/14

by Ivan Penn | Tampa Bay Times

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Pasadena, plan to announce legislation that would tighten regulation on Florida's utilities.

Latvala and Peters have scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference at Sonny's Bar-B-Q in Seminole to talk about the proposed measures. A press release describes their effort as a move "to take on the fight for consumers by introducing legislation that will provide tougher regulations for Florida electric utility companies."

The announcement comes as the November elections draw near.

Concern about Florida's utilities has grown in recent years as the power companies have increasingly worked to hold their monopoly control and with a series of missteps by the state's second largest investor owned utility, Duke Energy Florida.

Duke decided to permanently close its Crystal River nuclear plant after a botched upgrade project that caused damages that became too costly to repair. And the utility canceled its proposed Levy County nuclear project as the price tag reached $24.7 billion and cheaper alternatives arose.

Despite ending the two nuclear projects, Duke customers are paying $3.2 billion, though they will never receive a kilowatt of electricity from either.

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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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