Councilman Heady visits with new power partner

VERO BEACH – A day after Vero Beach Mayor Kevin Sawnick and City Manager Jim Gabbard traveled to Orlando for an uneventful meeting with officials of the Orlando Utilities Commission, Councilman Brian Heady took a trip of his own with a list of 44 questions he wanted answered.

Heady, who had scheduled his visit well before the Mayor’s trip, brought his questions in writing after Sawnick and Gabbard were told by the OUC the day before it would only answer questions in written form.  Many of his 44 questions centered on the upcoming deal with the OUC and the possibility of the Orlando outfit taking an expanded role in the city’s electric utility.

He said, based on his five-hour meeting, he expects to have written answers “sooner rather than later.”  

“The purpose in talking the entire day off and going up there was because the citizens of Vero Beach are mad and I wanted to do some fact-finding,” Heady said.

The city is set to switch to the OUC as its main power provider on January 1 in a 20-year deal that is sealed with a $50 million penalty clause if Vero Beach buys power from another utility. However, Charlie Wilson, who rode into office with Heady last month on a wave of voter disgust over utility rates, pushed the city during his short tenure to find out if the looking into selling the utility to Florida Power and Light would somehow trigger the OUC penalty.

Heady said he came away impressed with the OUC leaders, finding them forthright and answering many of his questions in conversation even though he will have the written responses for the record.

“If the city of Vero Beach had been as open when negotiating the contract we probably wouldn’t have the problems we are having today,” he said.

One of the mysteries of the OUC contract is where the $50 million clause came from that could hold up any potential deal with FP&L.  No one seems to remember, including OUC General Counsel Christopher Browder.

“I can’t tell you with any degree of certainty who started the conversation (on the clause),” Heady quoted Browder as saying. “But I can tell you with 100 degree certainty that I would have put in such a clause if we were going to tie up some of our capacity to you at a very generous rate.”

Heady added that the OUC is aware of the issues swirling around their new partners.

“They are concerned,” he said. “They want their partner to be happy and not involved in all this controversy before the first drop of power has been delivered.”

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