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Utility Reforms Moving Forward

James Marvin Phelps
Credit James Marvin Phelps

Since the start of session lawmakers have been using the state’s utility regulators, the Public Service Commission as something of a whipping boy. A measure billed as a PSC crackdown has passed the House and is waiting for approval in the Senate.

One of the first things Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) says he hoped to do in Tallahassee this year was to reform the Public Service Commission. And he says the bill that passed through the House does that.

“We’ve talked about term limits. We’ve talked about business owners like the Sonny’s in Pinellas County who had outrageous billing practice – that we could reign in that practice that affects many of our constituents. That’s what this bill does,” Sprowls says.

The measure also requires all meetings to be live streamed, requires commissioners to take an annual ethics class, and expands the prohibition of ex parte communication. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Mike La Rosa ( R-St. Cloud) says the measure is intended to restore the public’s confidence in the regulators. But  Rep. Dwight Dudley (D-St. Petersburg) says the bill doesn’t go far enough to do that.

“This is a step in the right direction, but this bill mostly, let’s make no mistake about that is about it is correcting problems that have occurred as a result of utility company’s aggressive practices with the PSC doing nothing to stop them,” Dudley says.

Dudley says the changes in the bill are just a small move forward, but Sprowls disagrees.

These are steps, I wouldn’t call them baby steps I think they’re significant steps,” Sprowls says.

Dudley wants to change the public service into an elected body. He says the bill from the House addresses some of warts and freckles on the PSC, but doesn’t address the larger issues. He filed an amendment he said would do that.

“What I’m trying to deal with is the elephant that we’re trying to get those warts and freckles off of and we need to deal with the elephant,” Dudley says.

Dudley says the elephant includes things like the Nuclear Cost Recovery clause--a state law that lets utilities charge customers for nuclear power plants before they start building them. And Dudley isn’t the only one concerned about nuclear cost recovery. Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez  (D-Miami) wants to see the practice stop. He says it’s costing his constituents in the Miami Dade area who are Florida Power and Light customers.

“Last year we paid over 14 million dollars. The prior year over 43 million dollars and in 2013 we paid 151 million dollars in advanced nuclear fees,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez proposed an amendment that would repeal the nuclear cost recovery clause unless voters indicated in a referendum they wanted to reinstate it. House Democrats proposed more than 2 dozen amendments during the measure’s floor hearing, none of which made it on the bill. The Senate is expected to take a  vote on the measure Friday.

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