UPDATE: Court sides with Vero on electric

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Electric customers outside the Vero Beach city limits who were hoping the Florida Supreme Court would give them some solid legal footing to get out of Vero’s system got some bad news Thursday in a ruling of the state’s high court.

Indian River County had appealed two decisions by the Florida Public Service Commission that underscored Vero Beach’s claimed right to what amounts to a permanent service territory, as awarded to Vero by the PSC.

The County had argued that, once a 30-year franchise agreement with Vero for electric service expires in March 2017, Vero would, despite the bounds of its service territory, be lacking the County’s expressed permission to use county rights of way and to do business as a utility in the unincorporated areas.

The PSC handed down a ruling defending its exclusive and superior power to designate electric utility service areas, saying that power trumps any authority the county may have.

The County appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which on Thursday said, “We reject the County’s challenges to this order, and for the reasons below, hold that the City had standing to seek this declaration from the PSC concerning territorial orders to which the City is a party and which the County had taken the position would be voided by the Franchise Agreement’s expiration, thereby effectively evicting the City.”

“We further hold that the PSC’s declaration is within the PSC’s authority as the entity with exclusive and superior statutory jurisdiction to determine utility service areas, and that the declaration does not impermissibly grant the County’s property rights to the City or violate the statutory prohibition against the PSC affecting a franchise fee,” the ruling states.

County Attorney Dylan Reingold briefed his commissioners Thursday afternoon on the development, which leaves county electric customers with few options.

“This decision appears to further erode the ability of local governments to represent the constituents that are served by municipal electric providers that do not reside within the municipality,” Reingold wrote to commissioners.

“It also further bolsters the argument that such municipal electric utility providers are truly unregulated monopolies beholden only to the citizens who live within the municipal boundaries,” he said.

Indian River Shores has asked the PSC to open up and review Vero’s service territory. That matter is expected to be heard this summer.

UPDATE: After going to press with the May 19 issue of Vero Beach 32963 and May 20 issue of Vero News, the Florida Public Service Commission hearing date for the Indian River Shores complaint was shifted from June 9 to July 7.

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