INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — County Commissioner Tim Zorc had wanted the County to charter a bus to take angry Vero Beach electric customers to Orlando to show their dismay with the Florida Municipal Power Agency co-op when it meets Thursday morning, but that trip will have to wait until May.
For more than three decades Vero Beach has been a member of the FMPA and the co-op’s long-term contracts have proven to be the major stumbling block to selling the Vero Beach electric utility to Florida Power and Light.
FMPA officials have stated that when they wrote those contracts they did not contemplate a member wishing to get out of the organization to sell to an investor-owned utility such as FPL.
When Zorc prepared the discussion item request for Tuesday’s agenda, he said he was under the impression that the Vero electric sale would be discussed on Thursday, but after reviewing the agendas for both the FMPA board meeting and the FMPA’s All-Requirements Project meeting to immediately follow, there is nothing specifically about Vero on those agendas.
Also in the interim, Vero Beach Mayor Dick Winger met with FMPA officials last week and the solution that was on the table, a $52 million payment to FMPA to facilitate Vero’s exit and off-load Vero’s power contracts was flatly rejected by FMPA leaders.
“Now we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Zorc said.
On top of that, logistics were an issue, Zorc said, as he was cutting it close on time to organize the trip and the bus transportation on short notice. But he’s not giving up on the idea, just focusing it on the FMPA’s May 1 meetings instead.
“We’re planning on making a presence at the May board meeting, that presence being as large as possible, to peacefully demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the FMPA’s lack of cooperation with a member who wants to get out,” Zorc said.
Zorc said he’d like to get 150 people to make the trip. Chairman Peter O’Bryan said he had a problem with the County chartering the bus, and that he knew the County Attorney Dylan Reingold had also expressed concerns about liability.
There were no objections to a county parking lot being used as a staging point, as the public can park there anyway.
The FMPA board is largely made up of paid utility directors and a few city managers, but only a couple of elected officials, one of those being Vero Beach Councilwoman Pilar Turner.
Because the vast majority board members are staff and therefore not elected and accountable to the voting public, Zorc said, they are politically insulated from the fallout of Vero Beach’s effort to sell to FPL. Zorc said he would like the word to get back to the elected officials in each city who send these utility directors to represent them on the FMPA.
“I think we need to put the spotlight on them with a show of force of people attending,” Zorc said. “They’re over there in a bubble and they’re very chummy, but if they have to run a gauntlet of 100 or so people they might realize, gee, these people in Vero really want to get out.”
Last fall, the County voted to spend nearly $80,000 on lobbyists to work on ways to help move the Vero electric sale forward to move all 33,000 customers to FPL rates, or, worst-case if the sale fails, to find a way to get the 20,000 customers who live outside the city limits off the system.
Zorc said after the meeting that he intends to get an outside quote on bus transportation and make seats on the bus available to those who would rather ride with the group than drive over individually.
He said citizens interested in joining the peaceful protest or in supporting the effort by helping to purchase signs or banners can call his assistant Terri Collins-Lister at (772) 226-1440 or to send him an email to TZorc@ircgov.com to sign up to attend the May 15 meeting.