Lawmakers Eye Oversight of Local Utilities

Lawmakers Eye Oversight of Local Utilities

By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida House members Tuesday raised the possibility of giving state regulators more oversight of municipal utilities.

Members of the House Energy, Communications & Cybersecurity Subcommittee repeatedly touched on the issue as they received presentations about the Florida Public Service Commission and the state Office of Public Counsel.

The Public Service Commission regulates for-profit utilities such as Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida but has little oversight of municipal utilities. The Office of Public Counsel represents consumers in regulatory cases at the Public Service Commission but lacks authority in municipal-electric issues.

Lawmakers did not detail specific proposals for state oversight. But Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, expressed concerns about situations in which residents are customers of municipal utilities but live outside of city boundaries. He said they can be forced to pay surcharges but can’t vote for municipal officials — a situation he likened to “taxation without representation.”

“Wouldn’t it be reasonable that if a municipal provider of … electricity stays within their boundaries, that would work,” Clemons said. “Once they venture out past their city limit or their boundary, there needs to be some way for citizens to be able to appeal something. Is there a mechanism whereby those citizens outside of the municipal boundary can come under the PSC or have some committee of the PSC that handles that jurisdiction?”

“I guess the simple answer, and it’s not a simple answer, is no,” Public Service Commission Executive Director Braulio Baez responded. “The reason I say no is because our governing statutes don’t give the agency (the Public Service Commission) that authority. Whether it’s reasonable or not, I think that is left to you all’s wisdom.”

Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, pointed to the possibility of the Legislature addressing rate-related issues as he questioned Baez.

“It sounds like we might need some legislation in this area to give you the authority to have jurisdiction over their rate structures, to make sure that all Floridians are getting power based on reasonable rates and that they (municipalities) are not supplementing some other venture that they’re putting on that is speculative, or whatever, in the municipality, with the utility rates,” Caruso said. “Because we need utility rates to be as low as possible for everybody in the state of Florida, like housing needs or water, it’s essential.”

Debates about municipal utilities serving customers in unincorporated areas have flared over the years, including a major dispute about a Vero Beach municipal utility serving residents in unincorporated parts of Indian River County. Ultimately, Florida Power & Light bought the Vero Beach utility in 2018.

Interim Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel said Tuesday his office in the past has been asked to help in “vetting” ideas related to customers of municipal utilities. But the role was limited.

“We don’t have the authority under the statute to represent those people that are in no man’s land, that’s been described,” Rehwinkel said. “We just don’t, because they’re not investor-owned (for-profit) utility customers.”

Florida has 33 municipal utilities, including in cities such as Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando and Gainesville, according to the website of the Florida Municipal Electric Association.

6 Responses to "Lawmakers Eye Oversight of Local Utilities"

  1. As if ratepayers have any say at the PSC, or as if the PSC does anything but rubberstamp the requests by utilities to increase rates.

  2. Tallahassee is going to need a variance in this proposed plan because we use our city owned utilities income to fund all sorts of non utility related leftist agenda and reelection campaign stuff. So you lawmakers are on notuce that you must make Tallahassee exempt from your draconian proposed laws. Thank you and I expect your initial wording on Tallahassee’s exemption from your stupid proposed legislation by Monday, close of business, February 6th, 2023.
    Your prompt attention to my request is appricated.
    J. D.

  3. FP&L and the like are definitely behind this. That said; without the ability to raid government-owned utility revenue funds to pad the local coffers, many county and municipal governments would need substantial property tax increases or face going belly-up.

  4. Florida Power & Light, the nastiest anti-consumer special interest, is obviously behind this legislation. Just like they were the aborted JEA takeover in Jacksonville and a lot of fake news websites popping up in Florida.

  5. I had a Mobile Home in a small Trailer Park off Dome Level Road which is off Aenon Church Road on the West Tennessee Street end and it was on Talquin Electric. Everything in that area was since it was about a Mile outside the City Limits. I sold it to a guy who was happy that it was Talquin because he hated the City Utilities Company. When he went to get it changed into his Name, Talquin told him it was NOW the City Utilities. They said that the City was taking over that area one Property at a time as the Utilities Change Payers. He was pissed.

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