Scott must decide whether to bring in new blood or keep utility board static

Gov. Rick Scott gets his first chance to put his mark on the five-member Public Service Commission.

09/19/2012 7:36 PM

09/20/2012 7:43 AM

Gov. Rick Scott has until Sunday to decide whether to reappoint the longest serving member of the powerful state utility board, eight-year veteran Lisa Edgar, or go in a new direction.

Scott interviewed Edgar and three other candidates on Tuesday, including Aventura city commissioner Luz Urbaez-Weinberg, Tampa Bay Water official David Polmann and a Ken Littlefield, a former Wesley Chapel state legislator.

“I want somebody that’s going to … make a good decision,’’ Scott told reporters Tuesday before conducting the interviews, which were left off his publicly-released schedule. “We want to keep utility rates as low as possible, but we want to make sure the utilities have the capital to be able to provide the service we all need.”

Edgar, who was first appointed to the post by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004 and reappointed four years later, is seeking a rare third term after eight years of rapid turnover and 16 different commissioners on the panel.

The five-member PSC is in the midst of a controversial $690 million rate case with Florida Power & Light, as the utility has proposed a $1 billion settlement to extend the rate increase over four years. In the coming months, the panel also must decide how much customers will be required to pay to repair of the damaged Crystal River nuclear power plant and make critical decisions relating to energy conservation and investor-own water utilities.

The PSC is an agency that reports to and is funded by the Legislature, but commissioners are appointed by the governor. The PSC Nominating Council narrowed the list of applicants from 23 to four.

"I think the governor is ready to make a change,’’ Littlefield told the Herald/Times after meeting with the governor. “I don’t have anything really to base that on except that, somewhere down the line, he’s going to have to put a face on the commission.”

Littlefield is hoping to reclaim the job he lost in 2007 after holding it for only 48 hours. He had been appointed by former Gov. Bush. But, after he was sworn in, former Gov. Charlie Crist withdrew the appointment as part of a sweeping withdrawal of 283 people named to statewide boards by Bush.

Littlefield, a Republican, resigned his legislative seat and it was then filled by Rep. Will Weatherford, who was elected with Littlefield’s name on the ballot. Weatherford next year will assume the role of House speaker.

He told the PSC Nominating Council that he should be considered not only for his experience chairing committees and specializing in utility issues as a legislator but also because he would bring a senior’s sense of maturity to the panel.

Edgar, 49, told the council that she has been a consensus builder on the commission and “brings stability” in the midst of the turnover.

Littlefield has the support of a Gainesville-based Tea Party group that has written Scott and accused Edgar of being too close to the utilities.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, an outspoken consumer advocate, also wrote the governor urging him to reject Edgar for reappointment. He cited articles by the Herald/Times the revealed how Edgar’s staff aide gave FPL officials the PIN message code to her Blackberry and also attempted to transmit a message to her from an FPL lobbyist during a regulatory proceeding. The Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint about some of those issues but Fasano remained a critic.

“The Public Service Commission was created in part to give utility customers, the public, the opportunity to have a voice in utility proceedings,’’ Fasano wrote. “The PSC has become too cozy with utilities in general. Commissioner Edgar is a holdover who will slow if not impede any transformation of the PSC that you may wish to continue pushing for.”

The Public Service Nominating Council interviewed several candidates and, in addition to Edgar and Littlefield, sent to the governor the following candidates:

•  Donald Polmann, 55, director of science and engineering at Tampa Bay Water, a regional water supply authority. He has spent most of his 18-year career there focused on drinking water regulation and protection. In his application, he said his experience at the utility allows him to “understand the basis, the emotion, and the politics of utility rate setting.” He said he would work to balance the needs of consumers with the needs of utilities “to protect the public for untenable rate hikes.”
•  Luz Weinberg, 41, a city commissioner in Aventura and director of communications for Port of Miami Tunnel Project. She said that the PSC should promote more energy efficiency, smart grid technology and smart meters and brings an ability to communicate well with the public.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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