State Senator says Public Service Commission is 'imploding'

09/09/09 Mitch E. Perry
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In the words of a leading Florida Republican, the State Public Service Commision is ‘imploding’.

That comment comes from New Port Richey State Senator Mike Fasano, after two top Public Service Commission staffers resigned Tuesday and two others went on administrative leave as alleged ethics lapses again overshadowed a hearing on proposed rate increases - this time to pay for new nuclear power plants.

Fasano has called for a Senate inquiry to have both Commissioners and Commission staff come before the Ethics & Elections Committee to testify under oath.

Fasano referred to Ryder Rudd, the former Director of Strategic Analysis and Government Affairs for the PSC. Rudd admitted last month that he and his wife attended a Kentucky Derby Party at the home of a Florida Power and Light (FPL) executive. That disclosure came as the commission began hearings on a separate FPL request to raise its base rates.

On Tuesday, some of the most critical comments about the PSC came from one of its own – Commissioner Nancy Argenziano.

Argenziano is calling for a grand jury investigation into what she says is improper influence exerted by legislators and utility companies into the regulation of public utilities. Argenziano said she knows of three threats made by legislators against the PSC unless it favored utilities. And she says that that the current system, with lawmakers appointing a short list of finalists for the governor to appoint as commissioners, is rife with conflicts of interest as lawmakers are wooed by utilities' campaign contributions.

Argenziano backed up her comments by asking for the resignation of her own chief advisor, Larry Harris, who admitted he gave the private messaging code for his phone to an executive with FP&L.

The news comes as the PSC holds a three day hearing this week in Tallahassee where FP&L are seeking state approval to pass on the costs of expanding the utility’s nuclear power plants to consumers – a $67 million dollar cost next year.

But consumer advocates disagree.

Sara Barczak is with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Her organization went before the PSC on Tuesday to argue that with energy efficiencies, nuclear power isn’t needed. But that’s certainly contrary to what not only nuclear proponents, but other pundits have said is needed as the U.S. needs for its energy future.

FP&L has proposed adding two new nuclear generators at their Turkey Point plant near Miami, as well as an expansion of four existing nuclear facilities, two at Turkey Point and two in St. Lucie County.

One of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s other arguments is that FLP could explore expanding natural gas plants, in light of natural gas costs falling to a 7-year low.

The Florida Legislature voted back in 2006 to allow utilities to charge customers for certain early costs of new nuclear or ‘clean’ coal power plants years before those projects begin producing electricity. But the PSC still has the authority to review whether those companies ‘prudently’ incurred costs.

Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance For Clean Energy says that with all of the controversy ongoing with the PSC this week, the least the company should be able to do is offer the public a chance to comment on FP&L rate hike, which they are not allowed to do.

The PSC series hearings on FP&L’s request continues thru Thursday.

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