Florida lawmakers’ bill would improve Public Service Commission

From Tampa Bay Times
By Ivan Penn, December 5, 2014

Two Tampa Bay area lawmakers announced Friday that they have filed legislation to reform the state Public Service Commission following a series of controversial decisions by regulators.

Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, and newly elected Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said ratepayers have lost confidence in the PSC and they want to take steps to restore the public trust.

The proposed reforms include:

• Limiting commissioners to two consecutive terms;

• Creating five districts for commissioners that align with the District Courts of Appeal;

• Requiring commissioners to live in the district from which they are appointed;

• Prohibiting elected officials from being appointed to the PSC for two years after leaving office.

“These meaningful first steps will add some diversity and accountability to the PSC as we work on other reforms that will fundamentally alter the culture of the PSC,” Sprowls said.

Cindy Muir, a PSC spokeswoman, declined to comment, saying it is the commission’s practice not to discuss pending legislation.

The proposal by Sprowls and Legg contain elements of past legislation from Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, who has been trying for two years to change the PSC. In addition to proposing districts for commissioners, Dudley also pushed to return the five-member body to elected positions rather than appointments by the governor.

The PSC voted 3-2 last week to gut the state’s energy-efficiency goals and to end rebates for solar power programs at the close of 2015. That followed a series of decisions by the commission in favor of Florida’s investor-owned utilities, in particular in regard to Duke Energy Florida.

The commission this fall approved Duke for a $1.5 billion natural gas plant at customer expense after the utility broke its sole nuclear plant during an upgrade project and canceled a proposed nuclear plant. The two failed nuclear projects are costing Duke’s 1.7 million customers $3.2 billion, though they’ll never get any electricity from either.

The state’s largest investor-owned utility, Florida Power & Light, wants the commission to approve a proposal to charge its Florida customers for fracking exploration in Oklahoma, an idea Duke also is considering.

Opposition to the PSC’s decisions and Florida’s investor-owned utilities — which include Duke, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light — has forged alliances between environmentalists and the conservative tea party.

“The Florida PSC apparently believes their job is to look out for the best interest of the electric monopolies and their stockholders — not the utility customers,” Debbie Dooley, founder of the Green Tea Coalition and Conservatives For Energy Freedom, said in a news release Thursday.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, noted on his blog this week: “The Florida Public Service Commission … is not even pretending to be objective anymore. They have become a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida Power & Light (FPL) and the other monopoly electric utilities in Florida!”

Sprowls, who promised during his campaign to take action to reform the PSC, said the steps he is taking will help the commission fulfill its true purpose.

“The Public Service Commission should serve the public good,” Sprowls said. “While millions of Floridians are left in the dark — or fleeced by companies like Duke Energy — the PSC continues to turn a blind eye.”

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

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