Electric rate hearing draws packed crowd
By Carl Orth | The Suncoast News
Critics of a proposed Progress Energy Florida rate increase turned out in force at a Florida Public Service Commission hearing here Wednesday.
Echoing the sentiments of many of the people in the standing-room-only crowd at the hearing at Spartan Manor, Elaine Geyer of Holiday said, "We can’t take it anymore."
The utility is asking the PSC for permission to increase its base rate for customers by $500 million by 2010. A request for an increase in a fee to pay for nuclear power plant projects could come later this year, raising the total close to $1 billion more.
"No matter how much we conserve, the bill keeps going up," Geyer, a Social Security recipient, complained. She added: "We can’t go elsewhere" for electricity. Progress Energy is the only game in town."
Geyer and other detractors were bothered that Progress Energy Florida wants a return on equity of 12.54 percent during a time of recession in which most businesses are accepting lower profits.
"There’s never a good time to raise base rates," Alex Glenn, Progress Energy Florida’s deputy general counsel, testified. Yet electricity costs have risen little during the past 25 years, he stated, while food costs have gone up 113 percent, housing 115 percent and medical costs 253 percent.
"We are a capital intensive business," Glenn said while holding up an electricity generator turbine blade the attorney said costs $41,000.
Progress Energy Florida recently spent $1 billion to convert its Bartow generating plant, on Weedon Island, from oil to cleaner-burning natural gas and another $300 million at the Crystal River nuclear plant, Glenn noted.
"We compete for investors" who demand an attractive return on their capital, Glenn said.
The 12.54 percent rate of return Progress Energy wants is excessive, Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly testified. Much of the utility’s costs are passed along to customers, making its electric base rate increases appear artificially small, he said.
As public counsel Kelly represents consumers before the PSC.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, described the utility’s rate increase request as "outrageous." His constituents already are struggling to pay bills, Fasano said.
A resident stopped state Rep. John Legg and asked the Port Richey-area Republican to relay a message on his behalf to the PSC. "Can you cut a guy a break?"