Nearly two months after regulators approved a controversial base-rate increase for Florida Power & Light, the state lawyer who represents utility customers said Thursday he will challenge the decision in the Florida Supreme Court.
State Public Counsel J.R. Kelly’s office filed a notice that is the first step in appealing the rate increase approved by the Florida Public Service Commission. FPL received a $350 million increase that took effect in January and also will be able to raise rates when three new power plants start operating.
The dispute focuses on a settlement that FPL reached in August with groups of major power users. That settlement, which did not include the Office of Public Counsel, served as the basis for the rate hike approved by regulators in December.
Created by the Legislature to represent consumers statewide in utility issues, the Office of Public Counsel contends that such a settlement cannot move forward without its agreement.
Also, the August settlement between FPL and the major power users differed significantly from a base-rate proposal that the utility filed earlier in 2012. Base-rate cases are highly complex and include voluminous amounts of data and witness testimony.
The Public Service Commission held two days of technical hearings in November about the settlement agreement and examined detailed information. But Kelly said his office has argued in earlier legal proceedings that the settlement was a “new filing and required starting the clock all over again” for a rate case.
After the notice of appeal was filed Thursday, FPL issued a statement defending the settlement. In part, the $350 million increase in January was lower than the amount FPL sought in its original rate filing. Also, customers’ monthly utility bills will remain virtually flat this year, even after an additional increase takes effect in June with the opening of a Cape Canaveral power plant.
“The settlement agreement, which was unanimously approved by the PSC, benefits all customers of FPL by enabling the utility to continue to deliver excellent reliability, industry-leading clean power, award-winning customer service and the lowest typical residential customer bills in Florida,” the utility said in the statement.
Kelly’s office also asked the Supreme Court in October to block the PSC from considering the settlement agreement. The Supreme Court sent the issue to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which denied Kelly’s request.
The public counsel said Thursday, however, that the issues are now “mature” after the PSC approved the settlement. The Supreme Court typically takes months — or sometimes even longer — to resolve cases, and the FPL rate increases will remain in effect while the challenge is pending.
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