FP&L and Vero leaders to huddle soon over financial data

VERO BEACH — About a month later than expected, Florida Power and Light is expected to meet with top City of Vero Beach staffers to discuss data the power provider has gleaned from a first-blush feasibility study of a potential purchase and takeover of Vero’s 34,000 electric customers and some or all of the power plant and other infrastructure.

“What we did was an initial financial analysis and we’re going to sit down and talk about the findings and work through all that,” spokeswoman Jackie Anderson said Friday.

Florida Power and Light has not yet completed a full-blown study involving detailed engineering and legal work.

The Vero Beach City Council has been unable to gain consensus for a workshop or debate on selling the utility until it gets “real numbers” from FP&L, so the upcoming meeting may give city leaders some ballpark figures to chew on going forward.

City Manager Jim Gabbard has stated publicly that the utility is worth somewhere between $200 million and $300 million, with about $100 million of that consisting of underground lines and equipment on the barrier island, according to an estimate from former Electric Utilities Director R.B. Sloan, who resigned in November to take a job in Virginia.

In November, FP&L Director of External Affairs Amy Brunjes was invited to a special meeting of the Vero City Council to speak in a public forum about whether or not the investor-owned utility — which has long had the lowest rates in Florida — would be interested in buying the Vero system.

Brunjes, who was accompanied by a member of the legal staff, replied that FP&L would be happy to “help” the City of Vero Beach. She also stated that the reason why the conversation had not been broached prior to that date was that FP&L was never invited to the table by the city and did not want to make the first move or be seen as pushing its way into the Vero market.

The City of Vero Beach currently holds territorial rights to the city, the Town of Indian River Shores and surrounding areas, as granted by the Florida Public Service Commission.

Indian River County and the Town of Indian River Shores have both begun efforts to look into what would need to be done, should the city not go down the road of a sale soon, to gain back control of the territories and be able to broker deals to get the best rates for constituents.

Still another wrinkle in this situation is an ongoing effort by political committee Operation Clean Sweep to garner enough signatures to have a referendum forcing the sale of the utility on the November ballot.

The latest reports are that more than two-thirds of the required petitions have been collected. Operation Clean Sweep is expecting a legal challenge by the city to the proposed charter amendment.

Anderson said she, herself, was not aware of the complaint filed in federal court by Councilman Brian Heady earlier this month, requesting the court weigh in on whether or not the city’s 20-year contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission is legally enforceable.

However, Anderson said, executives of the company might be aware that a suit had been filed.

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