EDITORIAL: FPL gets rate hike compromise

Florida’s Public Counsel J.R. Kelly termed Tuesday’s approval of an $811 million rate increase for Florida Power & Light “a little pain on both sides.”

The new rate hike will kick in January of 2017. A typical customer’s 1,000-kilowatt bill will go up about $7 a month, from $91.56 to $98.77. In 2018, that same bill would be $102.50; $103.70 in 2019. It then levels off — until the next round of rate hike requests.

We suppose you could say that there’s good new and bad news here.

The bad news is that the ever-cozy Public Service Commission OK’d the $811 million hike.

The good news is that FPL initially went to the well for a $1.3 billion rate increase.

But it was not the PSC that put the brakes on that, rather nine intervenors who fought the larger rate hike plan over the past 10 months. Some sought a$500 million rate decrease.

These included the Office of Public Counsel, the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Florida Retail Federation, the U.S. military, AARP and the Sierra Club. It represented a widely divergent opposition base — a largely successful one, too.

According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, the deal also caps FPL’s return on equity at 10.5 percent and bars it from hedging on natural gas contracts during the four-year agreement. Kelly said that the practice has cost state ratepayers $6.5 billion over the past 14 years.

The agreement also reduces FPL’s 2017 depreciation expense by $125 million.

And, on the good news side, the agreement mandates the utility initiate a 50-megawatt battery storage pilot program intended, the newspaper says, to benefit customers with planned or existing solar projects.

Utility companies are a little more cash-poor this year, due to a two-year, $20 million, investment in seeing Amendment 1 come to fruition on the general election ballot earlier this month.

Florida voters saw through the vacuous wording of the amendment for what it actually was — an huge effort to roadblock roof-top solar collection, generally for homeowners and small businesses.

But the effort did not and will not end there. r. During that same two-year period the same companies — led by Duke and FPL — also spent an estimated $9.3 million, in campaign contributions to Florida senators and representatives.

If one were to divide that number by 160 (40 senators and 120 representatives in the Florida legislature) the number would come out to over $58,000 per politician.

It may be significant to note that our state legislators make $29,697 annually (plus around $160 a day per diem in session). If, as the saying goes, “the dog comes to them that feeds him.” we’re in trouble.

The PSC is never likely to change its stripes. It’s an appointed board, hand-picked by those same legislators being fed. Tallahassee insiders will tell you that a seat on the PSC is nothing more than a prerequisite to a cush job at one of the state utilities.

We do acknowledge the work of Public Counsel Kelly’s office in fighting the initial rate request and bringing it to at least some sort of compromise. That would not have occurred five years ago.

But FPL got one last concession that should illustrate where it sits at the at the state rate table.

FPL customers will pay FPL’s legal and other expenses incurred during the three-month rate case — $4.2 million dollars. We’d like to say that’s shocking, but that would be corny, right?

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