April 17, 2014

Regulation

Power to the People

As two new PSC members change the tone, will Bush holdovers starting changing too?

Neil Skene | 7/1/2007
But how different will the PSC be? It oversees rates for investor-owned electric, natural gas and water companies in Florida, rules on new power plants and referees competition among local phone providers. How much harder will it push utilities on rates and environmental issues? Will any of the other commissioners sidle up to the newcomers? Or will they be planning their exit strategies, which often lead to nice salaries at utilities or their law firms?

“Maybe there is a turn that it is taking place,” Argenziano says, though disclaiming criticism of her current colleagues. “Unfortunately, the public has a picture of the Public Service Commission ... as being maybe too far to one side, the utility side.”

A new attitude won’t be enough, though. Facing experienced, well-prepared utility lawyers, commissioners need experience, knowledge, determination and meticulous preparation. Results are shaped not just by votes but by commissioners’ questions during hearings and well-articulated reasoning that can withstand appeals to a usually deferential Florida Supreme Court.

Argenziano learned the lesson the hard way at her second voting conference in May. The PSC was being asked to raise water rates for Utilities Inc. customers in Pinellas, Pasco and other counties by more than 40%, or about $5 a month. Is there any way, Argenziano asked the PSC staff, to avoid such a large increase all at once? No, she was told, once you decide that a utility deserves a certain rate of return, you can’t postpone the rates needed to earn that return.

Argenziano voted for the utility. “I came very close to voting no,” she told me, but her inexperience and her arrival at the tail end of the case gave her no basis for challenging the staff report.

Skop, however, struck one small blow for consumers. One of Utilities' water systems had weaker consumer satisfaction levels and deficient water-quality under new, higher environmental standards. (The water quality itself had not changed.) Skop proposed that those customers not be required to contribute to Utilities' costs for the rate case, a token $4,000. His colleagues agreed.

Two weeks later, against a staff recommendation, the commissioners unanimously rejected an FPL coal plant in the Everglades.

Something’s happening here.

Tags: Politics & Law, North Central, Energy & Utilities, Government/Politics & Law

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