TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Jack Latvala says Tampa Bay’s utility companies used to be “good corporate citizens.”
“The situation has changed,” he told reporters Thursday. “I have the responsibility to say ‘enough is enough.’”
Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, introduced legislation to overhaul the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulation board.
“And the worst situation that has been allowed to develop is the coziness between the investor-owned utilities and our Public Service Commission, its staff and many of the commissioners,” he said.
Latvala’s bill (SB 288), sponsored in the House by state Rep. Kathleen Peters, a South Pasadena Republican, would clamp down on rate increases and require more openness of regulators’ decision making.
The bill requires commissioners, among other things, to hold meetings around the state, stream video of meetings live over the Internet, and mandates the involvement of the Office of Public Counsel – the state’s utility watchdog – in settlements, among other provisions.
The proposal follows recent utility-related moves castigated by consumer groups and energy company watchdogs:
♦ Public Service commissioners approved Florida Power & Light’s request to charge its customers millions of dollars to explore for natural gas to run its power plants.
The South Florida-based utility now has permission to pass on the cost of a $191 million exploratory fracking project to its ratepayers. The eventual savings have been projected as $2 per residential customer per year.
♦ Duke Energy made a one-time change to its billing cycle that resulted in extra days being charged, which jacked up bills to thousands of customers in its Tampa Bay service area.
“Although it may be legal for utility companies to squeeze additional money from customers in this manner, it certainly isn’t moral,” Latvala wrote in a letter to Duke last year.
♦ A state appeals court upheld a 2006 law that allows utilities like FPL and Duke to collectively charge ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear power plants – and keep the money even if they’re never built.
Critics, who argued the law was unconstitutional, say utilities should give back the extra money to their customers.
Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, lauded the proposal.
“The Public Service Commission has been completely beholden to the utilities,” she said. “They’ve made one bad decision after another …. It’s time people took a serious look.”
Latvala’s measure also is supported in the House by new state Reps Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and the senator’s son, and Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.
Chris Latvala is sponsoring another bill with state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, to repeal the “nuclear cost recovery” law.
Sprowls is supporting still other legislation that would overhaul the appointment process for the Public Service Commission, requiring commissioners to come from different parts of the state and holding them to two four-year terms.
PSC spokeswoman Cindy Muir declined comment on any legislation aimed at changing the commission: “The PSC will continue to follow the laws as established by the Florida Legislature.”
Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said Latvala’s bill “is one of many legislative proposals we will be monitoring this year.”
“We look forward to reviewing the proposed legislation and working with state lawmakers to ensure any final bill is fair for all Duke Energy customers in Florida,” Ivey said.
An FPL spokeswoman reached on Thursday said she could not immediately comment on the bill.
How to sound off
SB 288 would overhaul the Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulation board. The entire bill can be read at www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2015/0288.
To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.