SARASOTA — Florida Power & Light’s proposal for $1.34 billion in rate increases over the next three years received split reactions from Sarasota and Manatee county residents at a special hearing Friday morning in Sarasota City Hall before the regulatory panel that will decide whether to grant the hikes.

About a dozen opponents lambasted the total 24 percent base-rate increase as a cash grab designed to bolster the utility’s profits, while more than a dozen others argued the boost is deserved for the utility’s good customer service and consistent reliability.

The hearing was the second in a series of nine public comment sessions being held this month across the state by the Florida Public Service Commission, which will vote on the proposed increases in October and November.

FPL, the state’s largest utility, formally filed the rate-hike request in March. If approved, the changes would raise an additional $866 million in 2017, followed by another $262 million in 2018 and $209 million in 2019.

The utility estimates that a typical residential bill of 1,000 kilowatt hours would rise from $91.84 per month to $100.66 per month next year, including all charges and fees, according to FPL materials. That typical rate would eventually rise to $105.31 in 2019 at the conclusion of the increases.

The AARP and consumer groups already are pushing back, and on Friday, the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County also announced its opposition to the plan.

League president Phyllis Vogel criticized the utility for spending millions to campaign for an amendment on ballots this fall that many argue would stifle the ability of private solar power companies to expand solar options in Florida.

“We call on Florida Power & Light to cease their sponsorship of the amendment … to commit helping Florida, the Sunshine State, to become a leader in solar energy,” Vogel said. “Let the sunshine in and stop building any further coal and gas plants.”

“If we don’t take responsible action, who will?” she continued. “This begins with denying this rate increase and taking a leadership role in promoting renewable energy.”

Other speakers argued the rate increases are less related to service improvements than they are to increasing profits.

Without any increases, the utility would still pocket $1.6 billion in profits this year, argued Schef Wright, an attorney for the Florida Retail Federation, which opposes the increases.

With the increases, the utility expects to reap about 11 percent return in profits, said J.R. Kelly, an attorney with the Florida Office of Public Counsel who represents company customers in the proceedings. Every 1 percent of extra profit equates to about $240 million in additional bills customers will pay, he said.

“Since the financial crisis started in ‘08, everyone has been forced to take a haircut, except Florida Power & Light,” Venice resident Marilynne Martin said Friday morning. “This pig who’s at your trough needs to be put on a strict diet.”

Supporters counter that the utility deserves more profit for the “superior” job its done. The increases would largely go to infrastructure investments, replacing aging technology and the construction of three new solar energy centers, according to FPL materials.

Those speaking in favor of the company — though not all directly in support of the increases — were almost all asked to speak at the hearing by FPL representatives, they said, and several were retired long-time FPL employees.

“I do have one complaint: A number of years ago I invested in a generator and I have not been able to use it,” joked long-time Manatee County resident Clayton Robertson, praising the utility’s reliability. “I can’t bring myself to say I’m in support of a rate increase, but I’m not opposed to it.”

(From Herald Tribune, June 3 2016, by Zach Murdoch)

Facebooktwittermailby feather