A House bill dealing with the utility regulation process is continuing to move in the House despite criticism from environmentalists that the bill doesn’t far enough to deal with energy issues.
HB 7109 would set term limits for PSC members, require those who lobby the PSC to register with the state, require parties in a utility rate challenge to approve of a settlement and expands the definition of prohibited “ex parte” communications by commissioners.
HB 7109 “is a consumer-friendly bill” designed to enhance public confidence in PSC and clarify regulatory practices for utility customers, said Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican from St. Cloud who is sponsor of the bill.
The bill provision dealing with settlements stems from a PSC rate approval of a $350 million rate request for Florida Power & Light Co. The Florida Supreme Court in 2014 rejected a challenge to the settlement by the Office of Public Counsel.
HB 7109, filed earlier this month by the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee, passed its first of two committee stops on Tuesday, the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Other bills that would repeal a fee for new nuclear plants or require election of PSC commissioners have stalled.
Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, noted that Duke Energy Florida could collect from customers $3.2 billion for work on nuclear plants that won’t open and that the PSC last fall gutted utility energy conservation programs.
“This bill doesn’t go nearly far enough,” she said while thanking La Rosa and the energy committee for filing the bill. “The Public Service Commission has made one bad decision after another that hurts consumers in the state of Florida.”
HB 7109 is similar to SB 288 by Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from St. Petersburg. But Latvala’s bill doesn’t contain the limit on three four-year terms that is in the House bill.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Republican from Palm Harbor, said the committee bill had begun a conversation on the related issues.
He is sponsor of HB 199, which would require the five commissioners to be appointed from districts and would have limited them to two terms. The bill has not been heard in a committee and likely is dead this legislative session.
“As we go forward I think many of us will be committed to those reforms,” Sprowls said. “I think what we have today is a very good start.”
The final committee stop for HB 7109 is before the Regulatory Affairs Committee. Latvala’s SB 288 must pass the Senate Committee on Appropriations before it can reach the Senate floor.
Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.