End of an era near for Vero Electric?

Three weeks ago, Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle signed more than 300 closing documents, and the paperwork was placed safely in escrow awaiting this Tuesday’s vote of the Florida Public Service Commission on the $185 million sale of the city’s electric utility to Florida Power & Light.

Former Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot announced last week at a town council meeting that FPL is gearing up to close the sale before Christmas should the vote go as expected.

Vero City Manager Jim O’Connor confirmed that the city staff is planning to turn over the utility to FPL on Monday morning, Dec. 17 after a tentatively scheduled closing at the law office of Carlton Fields attorney Nat Doliner in Tampa.

There are just a few last-minute details to iron out, O’Connor said Monday. The big question mark is the PSC vote, which at press time was expected to go Vero’s way after a highly favorable recommendation by the commission staff.

FPL spokesperson Sarah Gatewood would not say concretely that a Dec. 17 closing is planned, but she did confirm rapid forward movement.

“FPL is continuing to work through what is needed to close on the sale of the electric system, pending a positive vote by the Florida Public Service Commission,” Gatewood said. “In anticipation of the PSC’s approval of FPL’s petition and absent any unforeseen circumstances, we expect to complete the sale of the electric system and welcome Vero Beach’s 35,000 customers to the FPL family by the end of the year.”

Howle confirmed that he’s on standby to travel to Tampa for the closing. “They’ve told me to be available that whole week, if not the 17th, maybe the 18th or the 20th.”

Hugely grateful, and humbled to have his signature on the historic closing papers, Howle on Monday was still partially in disbelief. “If the closing happens that week, it will be the best Christmas present I could ever get. But I’ll go with what Dr. [Steve] Faherty always says, I’ll believe it when I get my first FPL bill.”

Those bills could come before the ball falls on 2018.

O’Connor said the city has done two test runs on handing off the meter-reading duties from Vero to FPL. Customers will receive a final bill for their power usage up to the closing date, then a prorated bill from FPL from that day forward. “Some customers might receive a bill from Vero and from FPL on the same day, FPL has a different way that they do their meter reading and billing and their billing cycles.

“If the closing happens on the 17th, FPL trucks will be rolling through Vero that day,” O’Connor said.

Those FPL drivers will be welcomed by nearly 35,000 ratepayers eagerly awaiting their arrival, ushering in relief from what many call oppressive electric rates that drain the larger community of about $20 million annually in excess power costs.

Utility activist Glenn Heran will be one of those cheering when he sees the FPL rigs.

Heran traveled to Tallahassee to watch Tuesday’s PSC vote in person because he just had to see it through – that once-subversive pro-sale movement that he and a handful of others started more than a decade ago when Heran and Faherty launched a roadshow of sorts, touting the benefits of selling the utility in front of every civic club and homeowners’ association that would hear them out.

The sale terms in the papers Howle signed relieve Vero of all of its utility debt and long-term wholesale power contracts, with at least $30 million in residual cash. As a major added bonus, in time, the Big Blue electric plant site on the Indian River will be returned to green grass and waterfront vistas.

“If the vote goes as planned, after 11 years, all I’ll be able to say is thank God,” Heran said.

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