Push to sell Vero Beach electric won’t be ‘over a cliff’

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Proponents for selling off the Vero Beach electric utility say they can prove that no matter what price the city gets for its power plant and transmission lines, the city would be better off financially than hanging on to the power system.

Dr. Stephen Faherty and Glenn Heran made a presentation to the county’s Utility Advisory Committee Thursday, showing in a spreadsheet that even if the city were to give away the electric utility to Florida Power and Light, the city would still come out ahead by nearly $2 million. The savings would come from the decreased electric bills and taxes and fees FP&L would have to pay the city after paying off debt and other expenses related to the utility.

Heran said there would be no way that the Florida Public Service Commission would allow FP&L to acquire the city’s electric system without paying at $70 million – what he believes would be the “fair market value” for the utility.

In that case, the city would come out ahead even more, Heran said.

“I don’t know what more I can do to convince the community,” he said, that they would be better off with Florida Power and Light.

Faherty told the Utility Advisory Committee that the purpose of the presentation was to show that the city – and the city’s electric customers – would benefit from a sale to FP&L, that the city would not be financially harmed.

“It’s not pushing the city over a cliff or anything like that,” Faherty said.

Heran and Faherty estimate more than 33,000 customers are on the Vero Beach electric grid – of those 61 percent live outside the city limits in either unincorporated Indian River County or the Town of Indian River Shores.

Vero Beach Vice Mayor Sabe Abell after the meeting questioned the customer count, saying that he believes the number of actual named customers to be closer to 27,000. He explained that the 33,000-some “customers” are more meters than people.

Heran explained during the meeting that it makes sense to sell the power utility to Florida Power and Light for two reasons – one, because the city is surrounded by FP&L and two, because the power provider has cheaper rates than the city’s rates.

After the meeting, Abell took issue with the assumption that the city could sell to FP&L.

“We don’t have a buyer,” he said. Though the city has sent letters out to FP&L and other power providers about the possibility, there is no agreement currently on the table.

Abell also questioned the level of service the city’s customers would receive from FP&L – given it would add approximately 34,000 customers to its 4.5 million-strong customer base.

“It certainly isn’t going to be a big deal,” Abell said of the city’s customers to FP&L in the event of a major catastrophe such as “Hurricane Oh No.” He said he doubts FP&L would send its crews to Vero Beach to restore power before the company would help Fort Lauderdale.

On the point of whether FP&L would have an interest in Vero Beach electric, Heran agreed that the power company does not have a need to acquire 34,000 customers. However, it would increase the company’s footprint even more.

Heran had asked to make the same presentation before the Board of County Commissioners at a meeting last month. Instead, commissioners directed Heran to make the presentation to the UAC first because the committee now has the authority to discuss electric issues.

“We’ve received mathematical gymnastics here,” UAC member Carlton Miller told his fellow committee members, adding that he is not sure what to do with the information, that there was no information from the city to compare.

Commissioner Joe Flescher, who serves as the commission liaison for the committee, told the group that the presentation was more for general education than discussion, that no action was needed.

The next step would be for Heran and Faherty to make the same presentation to the Board of County Commissioners and any other group – government or otherwise – that would like to test the numbers.

Abell said that the city has seen some of the presented information before, but that he would like for city staff, including Acting Director of Electric Utilities John Lee, to review the data and get their opinion on it.

As for the information Heran and Faherty presented, “these are what ifs, not facts,” Abell said.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment