Vero Beach Council not quite ready to approve FPL letter of intent to buy

VERO BEACH – The Vero Beach City Council Monday decided to wait before approving a proposed letter of intent to sell the city’s electric utility to Florida Power and Light.

Council members expressed concerns about some of the language in the power company’s letter and wanted to be sure the city would be on equal footing before approving it.

Vice Mayor Pilar Turner said she supports moving forward with a potential sale of the Vero Beach  Electric Utility but still feels the need to protect the city’s interests.

The Vero Beach City Council is expected to review a new version of the letter of intent this week and could take a vote to either approve or reject the letter.

The city’s staff is expected to work today on crafting an updated letter of intent with FPL and bring it back to the city council tomorrow. If the council approves that letter, then it will be sent on to FPL for approval.

Amy Brunjes, FPL’s external affairs officer, told the council Monday that the power company was not looking for the city to approve any offer at this point, only the letter, which serves as a starting point for negotiations.

FPL is offering, among other considerations, $100 million to purchase the city’s utility and pay off the city’s electric obligations. The company, in its letter of intent, has also offered to take on the city’s electric utility employees for two years.

Vero Beach’s employees “understand the system better than anyone else,” said FPL’s Vice President of Energy Marketing & Trading Sam Forrest.

Under the current proposal, Vero Beach Electric customers could pay the same rates current FPL customers pay, which is estimated to save them $11 million in the first year, Forrest told the council. Vero Beach citizens alone would save $5 million, according to FPL.

Two dozen residents – some from the City of Vero Beach and others from Indian River County – spoke before the council, the majority in favor of approving the letter of intent and beginning negotiations.

“You have a no-brainer here,” said Daniel Fourmont, a Magans Ocean Walk resident.

Bill Curtis, of Buckinghammock Trail, also spoke favorably about moving forward with letter of intent, telling the council that power outages from the city have made sleep difficult for him.

Curtis has sleep apnea and uses a breathing apparatus to ensure proper breathing while asleep – when the power goes out, he can’t breathe. He said he learned from the utility that the service station that serves his area needs a new part – one that will take four or five months to be delivered and installed.

“I would like better reliability,” Curtis said, adding, “I’d sleep a lot more soundly.”

A handful of residents cautioned the council about selling the power plant and electric utility, touting the city’s customer service and responsiveness.

Mark Tripson, a city customer living outside the city, told the council that he has had excellent service from the city.

“You pay a premium for service,” Tripson said. “That’s our plant.”

He asked the council how the city would make up for the loss of electric revenue if the city were to sell to FPL.

Vero Beach resident Linda Hillman, too, expressed concern about how selling could impact city taxes. She asked the council to look at a potential sale from all sides and reminded the council that it has an obligation to the city’s taxpayers.

Jim Gillon, owner of The Granada Towers, said the funds that come from the Vero Beach Electric utility help support the city and “make it a star,” which benefits everyone in the county because they all come to Vero Beach.

He likened the difference in electric rates between Vero Beach and FPL to having lunch at the Ocean Grill and 7-Eleven – both have food, but Ocean Grill’s food is better and there is better service.

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