FPL seeks rate increase, but at what cost to schools?
Critics claim shareholders' stake could be motivating factor for rate hike
PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – A proposed rate hike by Florida Power & Light could impact more than just customers' electricity costs. It could also impact their children's education.
FPL has asked the Florida Public Service Commission to approve a 23-percent multiyear base-rate increase. The proposed increase would jump by about $8.50 in 2017, $2.50 in 2018 and $2 in 2019 -- $13 more per month for the average residential user.
"That may not seem like a lot, but a lot of people are struggling to get by," state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, told Local 10 News consumer advocate Christina Vazquez. "$13 will hit you."
Rodriguez said he's concerned about the impact to a customer's monthly bill.
"They've been making plenty off of us with a monopoly," he said.
J.R. Kelly, whose Office of Public Counsel is tasked with representing ratepayers, spoke to Vazquez about the proposal.
"It is trickle-down economics," Kelly said. "It's not $13 a month. You have to look at the bigger picture."
That bigger picture includes South Florida schools.
"We don't have the opportunity, like some entities, to raise our prices," Jaime Torrens, chief facilities officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, told Vazquez.
Torrens said the district has about 800 FPL accounts and said the expected impact would be costly.
Related link: FPL base rate plan details
"We anticipate, if everything is approved as proposed, it would cost us about $37 million over the next four years," he said.
Torrens said that's a significant amount of money from the district's operating budget. He said it's the same pot used to pay teachers and employees.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools unanimously opposed the proposed rate increase at its school board meeting Wednesday.
"Our bills right now are $40 lower than the average bill in the nation," FPL spokeswoman Sara Gatewood said.
She said if the requested rate hike is approved, FPL believes bills in 2020 will still be less than they were 10 years ago. She said the money is needed to strengthen FPL's grid against future storms, as well as for infrastructure and investments.
Gatewood said the goal is to "keep bills low long-term."
Related link: PSC questions & answers
Critics, however, point to another reason for the proposed rate increase that FPL provided to the PSC -- to put more money in the pockets of shareholders.
"What Florida Power & Light is asking for we do not believe is reasonable," Kelly said.
Rodriguez said he believes a judge-ordered cleanup of the Turkey Point power plant's leaky cooling canals could be at play as well.
"They seek to pass the cost onto consumers to the tune of $50 million just for the first year," he said.
The PSC will hold a series of public hearings beginning next week, giving customers an opportunity to hear from FPL and share their concerns.
The PSC is scheduled to file a recommendation with the Commission on Nov. 17. Commissioners are expected to vote on this matter at the Nov. 29 Commission Conference.
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