TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The state's consumer advocate says a proposed Florida Power & Light Co. rate settlement with three groups of commercial customers is a bad deal for nearly everyone else and is participating under protest in a regulatory hearing on the plan that began Monday.
Over a four-year period, the proposal would raise base rates for a typical residential customer by nearly $10 per month. Company officials say they expect overall residential bills, though, to increase much less and remain the lowest in the state due to anticipated reductions in fuel charges and other annual adjustments.
Commercial customers, though, would be expected to see their overall rates go down or at least remain flat while FPL stockholders would be allowed a higher return.
FPL, the state's largest electric utility, serves 4.6 million homes, businesses and other customers in South Florida and on the state's east coast.
Public Counsel J.R. Kelly contends the proposed settlement is unfair and inequitable. Kelly also argues the Public Service Commission cannot legally accept the agreement that FPL signed with groups representing industrial, health care and federal government customers.
Kelly contends state law says he's a "necessary party" to any settlement because he represents all consumers.
"The signatories to the agreement do not and cannot, by virtue of the tiny fraction of FPL's 4.6 million customers they actually represent, represent the interest of customers other than those described in their petitions to intervene," Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel told the five-member commission.
The panel in September rejected that argument, and the 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday refused to block the hearing without explanation.
Kelly had asked the Florida Supreme Court to halt the hearing. The justices, instead, sent the case to the appellate court but left the door open for Kelly to make the same argument in a potential appeal if the commission should approve the settlement. The hearing was scheduled for up to three days. The five-member panel will make its decision on Dec. 13.
Lawyers for FPL and the groups that signed the deal argued it would benefit all customers by ensuring the company can attract capital for new power plants using low-cost natural gas that also burns cleaner than coal.