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Florida

Are Utility Rate Hikes Ahead?

AARP and other consumer advocates say Public Service Commission needs reform

Florida State Page News March 2011

Nancy Argenziano, who quit the Florida PSC when her second-term nomination failed, has become a critic of it. AARP backs legislation to limit communications between utilities and the commission. — Tristan Spinski

It might face even more resistance this year. While the Senate put the bill on a fast track last year, new Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said the reintroduced legislation must go through the usual committee process. House leaders have expressed little interest in the measure. "I really don't have an indication how this [the legislation] will go," Fasano said. "But the need is still there."

Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican state senator who abruptly quit the PSC last fall after her reappointment was turned down by a nominating commission, said Fasano's bill doesn't have a chance.

"You're never going to get a PSC ethics bill through the legislature," Argenziano said. "Utilities are one of the legislature's biggest cash cows. Utilities give to campaigns, and they tell the legislature, 'This is what we want you to do.' "

Florida's electric utilities contributed $3.7 million in direct contributions to parties and candidates during last year's elections, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Another development could also mean higher energy costs for consumers. State legislators are seeking to encourage the use of solar, biomass and other renewable fuels by giving utilities authority to charge customers the higher costs of going green.

Utilities, though, defend the plan. "Other states are moving far more quickly than Florida in solar energy — and here, we're the Sunshine State," said Mark Bubriski, an FPL spokesman. "But moving toward renewable energy also can attract industries and bring jobs. And that's important right now."

John Kennedy is a reporter covering government and politics based in Tallahassee, Fla.

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