Vero OKs talks to resurrect electric sale

VERO BEACH — Vero electric customers perturbed about paying rates roughly 30 percent higher than Florida Power & Light got a glimmer of hope Tuesday as the Vero Beach City Council agreed to multi-party talks designed to find a way to close the long-stalled sale of the city’s electric utility.

Plans to sell the utility came to a halt more than one year ago after the Orlando Utilities Commission backed out of a commitment to take over Vero’s right-to-purchase power from generating plants partly owned by the Florida Municipal Power Agency. The FMPA itself has thrown up many roadblocks to the sale, demanding massive, yet somewhat unquantifiable exit penalties for Vero to leave the power co-op.

County Attorney Dylan Reingold was approached in Tallahassee by former House Speaker Dean Cannon, a lobbyist for the FMPA, about getting all the parties to the table and that conversation led to a letter from FMPA CEO Nick Guarriello expressing a willingness to meet with Vero and other interested parties about options for resurrecting the sale, Reingold told the Vero Beach City Council Tuesday.

In 2011, FPL offered Vero $100 million cash plus another $70-plus million in other considerations, including job guarantees for electric utility workers for a number of years, assumption of pension liabilities for electric utility workers, new property tax revenue on utility assets, decommissioning of the power plant and moving all electric utility equipment off Vero’s riverfront onto a nearby parcel. The deal also included tens of millions of dollars in transmission upgrades.

A date, time and place for the meeting has not yet been set, but Vero’s attorneys insisted the meeting be confidential, as Vero has active legal or regulatory disputes with the Indian River Board of County Commissioners and the Town of Indian River Shores.

“I will tell you that I don’t see anything wrong with talking to anybody at any time, but it’s got to be confidential so it can’t be used as part of the litigation,” Bartow-based trial attorney John Frost said Tuesday during the council meeting.

City officials plan to send the FMPA formal notification of its intent to participate in and organize the negotiation session.

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