PSC awaits new member before voting on rates
By KEITH LANG The News Service of Florida Published:
TALLAHASSEE – On its first vote with one of Gov. Charlie Crist’s new appointees, the Public Service Commission on Tuesday acquiesced to the governor’s request that it put off votes on proposed rate increases for Florida’s two biggest power companies until his overhaul of the panel is complete.
PSC Commissioner David Klement, a Manantee County resident who was sworn in last week, joined the unanimous vote to push back decisions on a $1.25 billion requested rate increase from Florida Power & Light and a $499 million proposed hike for Progress Energy until January. The decision now will not be issued until Jan. 28 and 29, weeks after a second new appointee, Commissioner-designate Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, joins Klement on the PSC.
Crist had requested the delay after he effectively fired former Commissioner Katrina McMurrian and PSC chairman Matthew Carter. McMurrian quit the panel after she was not reappointed, but Carter remains until January and he also voted in favor of the delay. That means he will be off the panel by the time it decides on the proposals.
The decision also means Progress Energy can impose its rate increase without the PSC approval on Jan. 1 under state law, but the rate hike would be subject to refund if it is ultimately voted down by the PSC.
FPL, with current rates that are the result of a 2005 settlement agreement approved by the PSC, will have to wait for the panel to weigh in before it could begin charging a new rate.
The delay was ostensibly to give the new commissioners time to get up to speed on the cases, which have been before the panel since March, but Klement said Tuesday that he could look at the records of the case and “evaluate them as most ordinary people would, as a common sense assessment while respecting the law.”
“I know there’s a lot riding on this decision today,” Klement told his new colleagues. “I’m aware that the governor wants those matters to be delayed. I’m aware that this matter is now entangled in politics, which is unfortunate for all parties concerned, and I’m aware that the staff recommends against a postponement.”
State law requires the PSC to make a decision on rate increases within 12 months of opening them or risk not having a say in rates, giving the panel deadlines of March 18 for the Progress case and March 20 for FPL’s. Klement said he did not think pushing back the decision would imperil the due process of either side of the case, though he said catching up on the case would require reading 9,699 typed pages, 829 pages of exhibits and 23 days worth of hearing videos.