Business

FPL customers, backers urge rate increase

A display panel with FPL’s logo was part of the unveiling ceremony for a new solar array at the college of engineering at FIU in April.
A display panel with FPL’s logo was part of the unveiling ceremony for a new solar array at the college of engineering at FIU in April. emichot@miamiherald.com

Florida Power & Light’s quality of service, reliability and contributions to the community were lauded Wednesday night by those representing businesses, non-profits and average customers, most of whom said the company deserves the $1.337 billion rate increase it’s seeking.

The Florida Public Service Commission hearing held at the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach is the third of nine being held around the state.

The majority of the 50 people who spoke at the podium for three minutes during the three-hour meeting said they were contacted by FPL employees who asked if they would attend the hearing and speak about their experiences with FPL.

About 10 attendees spoke against the the rate increase, including several who said the hearing was “stacked” with people FPL had hand-picked.

Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly questioned the speakers about their ties to FPL and whether their company did business with FPL or if FPL donated to their organization, and people began providing the information without being asked.

Sandra Foland, CEO of Baron Sign Manufacturing in Riviera Beach, who said her company is both an FPL vendor and of course, a customer, said FPL has given the firm personalized attention, such as checking voltage on Baron’s equipment. The firm also sold FPL a solar sign system.

“If I do not have electricity, then I cannot work,” said Foland, who said she is willing to pay more to ensure the best possible service.

Drew Martin, a Lake Worth resident and conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Loxahatchee Group, said he is concerned about FPL’s political power.

“I am very unhappy that so many people have been asked to come here by FPL,” Martin said, questioning whether the testimony given under oath was really independent.

FPL is seeking a $1.337 billion, four-year base rate increase. If approved by the PSC it would begin in phases starting in 2017.

The total bill for a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours a month would jump to $105.45 by June 2019 from $91.84 today.

The base rate portion of the bill would increase almost 24 percent from $57 this year to $70.28 in 2019.

The company is also seeking an overall rate of return on equity midpoint of 11.5 percent. Its current allowable range is 9.5 percent to 11.5 percent.

At the hearing’s outset, Kelly said that FPL is a good company, but that’s not what the rate case’s issues are.

“This case is about FPL proving everything they are asking for is reasonable and prudent,” Kelly said.

Schef Wright, an attorney representing the Florida Retail Federation, which opposes the rate increase, said that even without an increase next year, FPL can still make $1.6 billion in profits.

Eric Silagy, FPL’s president and CEO, said the company has been investing $3 billion to $4 billion a year in infrastructure to provide more reliable service, while customer bills have decreased 15 percent in the last 10 years.

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