The Tampa Electric company, or TECO, will be forced to defend themselves in front of the Public Service Commission next month, over charges they did not conduct an open bidding process for transporting coal, and they over charged consumers in the process. But this week TECO has accused the consumer group that is bringing the challenge, of not really representing consumers, and instead working as a tool of TECO corporate competitors. The controversy may play into whether the Public Service commission rules against TECO, and it is causing consumer advocates to question when they should accept contributions from corporations. WMNF’S Andrew Stelzer has the story.

When Tampa Electric ships fuel across the Gulf of Mexico, they contract out the job to another company. But that company is TECO transport, which is owned by the same larger corporation, TECO energy Incorporated. Normally this business practice is fine, but TECO transport charges other companies less for their services. So if Tampa Electric is paying higher prices than they have to for coal transport, and then passing on those higher prices to customers on their electric bills, the public service commission could force them to reopen their bidding process, to determine if its all a scam by TECO energy to have their own sub-companies overcharging each other and making a consumers pay more.

TECO denies doing anything wrong, but the Public Service Commission, or PSC, is investigating the matter, mainly using information provided to them by the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. But in defending itself, TECO now charges that large unnamed corporate interests are funding the campaign and legal proceedings against TECO. TECO is accusing Mike Twomey, Walter Dartland, and Ron Sachs of the consumer federation, of working for TECO competitors, specifically CSX coal, when they accepted their donations. Richard Layfeld is Senior Vice president at TECO ACT ‘This is an issue effecting rates, and it could be a conflict of interest…�

TECO has filed a legal request to the PSC to force the consumer federation to reveal their funding sources. Those challenges have been directed towards Mike Twomey; because Twomey is the only one who has filed charges against TECO< he is the only one they can compel to provide information in relation to the case. ACT “We’ve been trying to get him to answer some very basic questions….�

Twomey denies any wrongdoing, and Walter Dartland, President of the Consumer federation says TECO is scrambling to distract the public from the real issue. ACT “The facts will bear it out…this company has been charging for transportation…�

But TECOs charges have credibility in the eyes of at least one other consumer advocate, Bill Newton with the Florida Consumer Action Network, abbreviated FCAN. FCCN was initially involved in the campaign against TECO, but then dropped out. Newton says the first thing that tipped him off the campaign against TECO may have been funded by a competitor was the involvment on Ron Sachs, a high priced Tallahasee Public relations professional. Newton suggests that CSX coal was either funding the campaign against TECO before it began, or that the campaign was started with the aim of signing up at least one of TECOS competitors. ACT “We kept asking Ron Sachs…� ACT-fcan �we kept asking Ron sachs where his money was coming from…�

Newton wrote a letter to the Tampa Tribune last September, saying that “the campaign to sink the Barge deal is questionable� an adding that TECO is overall, a “good corporate citizen�. Newton says he doesn’t think its right to attack TECO until it’s clear they have done something wrong. ACT “We try to avoid getting between two corporations…�

At this point TECO is not claiming that the Consumer federation of the Southeast is doing anything illegal, but, it may be, and Layfeld says it would certainly be a conflict of interest, with the federation not really representing consumers. Layfeld ACT “Dartland and Sachs are a funding from for this so called consumer federation.

Walter dartland denies the charges ACT “Did you take money? No “Would it be a conflict of interest?�

Newton says there are no bad feelings between he and Dartland, whom he says is still a great consumer advocate. But the two have differences when it comes to whether they trust TECO, and philosophically, whether it’s wrong for a public advocate to take donations from a corporation. ACT-FCAN “I believe the Consumer federation thinks they are doing the right thing…�

Dartland says he will reply to TECO within the next week, although they have not decided whether they will reveal where they get their funding. But he adds that the entire issue of where the Consumer federation of the Southeast gets it’s money is an irrelevant distraction. ACT �to me it’s a sign of desperation by the company…�

As for Newton’s statement that TECO is a good corporate citizen… ACT “I disagree with Bill Newton on this one.they aren't being good corporate citizens, bill Newton has falled victim to that thinking.�

The Public Service Commission will hold its hearings on the TECO coal transport case on May 26th and 27th. Newton says TECO has made progress with the charges against Dartland, and that may help TECO at those hearings. ACT-fcan “TECOS accomplished what they want which is to paint CFSE as working for CSX.�

What the Public Service Commission determines may also be up for criticism, as the PSC itself has recently been criticized for acting in the interest of utility companies, instead of the public they are charged to serve.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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