Elected officials, interested citizens and witnesses who had been waiting to find out if they were going to Tallahassee this Thursday for a hearing before the Florida Public Service Commission on the terms of the $185 million Vero Beach electric sale to Florida Power and Light finally got word on Tuesday afternoon: The hearing is on.
Rescheduled from last week due to Hurricane Michael, the hearing had been set to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday, with public comment at 2 p.m., with a second day set aside for evidence and testimony on Friday. But a request by attorney Lynne Larkin – the sole local objector remaining in the case – asked to have the proceedings postponed again because her key witnesses are not available.
Larkin says she represents the Civic Association of Indian River County, which she claims has 900 members, a substantial number of which would be harmed if the electric sale closes. Though no detailed list of members has been made public to date, Larkin put forth a handful of anti-sale Vero Beach residents as witnesses, among them former mayors Tom White and Jay Kramer. Former councilman Ken Daige and long-time utilities commission member Herb Whittall round out Larkin’s cadre of sale opponents who provided statements for the PSC record.
The crux of the matter to be heard on appeal by the PSC is whether or not FPL can charge PSC-regulated FPL retail rates to Vero’s 34,000 customers and absorb a $116.2 million acquisition adjustment, or whether some or all of that $116.2 million will need to be recouped some other way. On June 5, the PSC voted 3-2 that Vero’s sale demonstrates “extraordinary circumstances” and that the accounting treatment of the difference between the sale price and the book value should be allowed.
Among the dissenting votes was PSC Chairman Art Graham, who sided with the recommendation of the PSC staff and the Office of Public Counsel that some manner of surcharge on Vero electric customers would be required. A surcharge that would extend Vero’s current rates and postpone major rate reductions for four or five years is widely seen as a deal-killer.
On Tuesday afternoon, Larkin’s motion for relief – to have the hearing delayed to accommodate her witnesses – was denied by the Public Service Commission, and the hearing will proceed as planned on Thursday.