News from Tallahassee for 2/27/15

Regulators order Duke to refund money to customers posted on 10/3/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

FL Public Service Commission sealTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Amid a growing political backlash, state regulators on Thursday ordered one of Florida's largest power companies to give back $54 million it collected from ratepayers to pay for a failed nuclear plant.

The vote by the Florida Public Service Commission, which is coming just weeks before Election Day, is a bit of surprise since it went against the recommendations of the commission staff.

"We recognize that rate payers are frustrated and that is a reality," said PSC member Ronald Brise. "Our duty I believe is to find a way to address the issues that are frustrating the consumers but do it in a way that reflects our current statutory framework."

The decision means that sometime next year that Duke Energy Florida will wipe out an average $3.45 a month charge that customers are paying for costs associated with a now-scuttled nuclear plant. Duke announced last year it was abandoning plans to build the plant in Levy County on Florida's Gulf coast, but consumers are still paying for costs associated with the plant.

Duke Energy Florida has roughly 1.7 million customers.

Duke has already paid $54 million for equipment that was supposed to be used for the Levy plant but never received it. The company is now suing the vendor responsible and Duke officials wanted to wait until the lawsuit was resolved before crediting customers.

The PSC vote to credit customers comes at the same time that treatment of the company has become an issue in the governor's race. A group launched by a California billionaire environmentalist has taken out ads attacking Gov. Rick Scott over Duke Energy.

Republican legislators, meanwhile, have also complained about Duke and some of its billing practices. Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has spent nearly four years sidestepping utility cases, this week called on the PSC to return the $54 million to ratepayers.

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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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