After hours of back and forth discussions, the state's utilities regulators unanimously approved Thursday a Florida Power & Light Co. settlement agreement for $350 million in base rate increases over the next four years beginning January, with millions more to come June 2013.
"At the end of the day, I believe this is a good deal for consumers and a good deal for the company," said Ronald Brise, chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission.
The Florida Office of Public Counsel, which represents utility consumers, opposed the settlement, arguing that FPL should file other rate cases before collecting millions of dollars more for upcoming power plants. FPL made its settlement agreement with major power users.
"I firmly and strongly believe that he process that this commission undertook did and does protect the interest of all parties," said Commissioner Lisa Polka Edgar. "[It] does absolutely address and go beyond due process needs and requirements, gave each of us and our staff and all parties an opportunity to participate timely and thoughtfully."
The agreement also provides rate certainty for the next four years, she said.
"Our bills are going to be the lowest in the state," said Alys Daly, FPL spokeswoman. That's because FPL bills include both base rate charges and fuel costs, she said. Fuel costs have decreased due to modernized power plant facilities, she said.
A Cape Canaveral facility enters service in June, Daly said, and that's when customers will start paying approximately $1 more per month. That plant calls for an additional $173.9 million in base rate increases, Daly said.
"A customer doesn't begin paying for a power plant until it's already built and online, working, operational," she said.
FPL serves 2,565,000 customers in South Florida and about 4.6 million throughout the state.
The original $690 million request for base rate increases would have had customers paying about $1.50 more per month, beginning January. FPL filed a settlement agreement shortly before hearings for the original request were scheduled to begin.
A day before the PSC's decision, a bi-partisan group of four legislators urged the commission to deny the settlement and move forward with already scheduled hearings for the original rate increase request.
"I am urging PSC Chairman Ronald Brisé to vote no on this settlement, which will increase rates for the hard-working families in Miami," said in a statement Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami. "It is difficult for our families to make ends meet in these tough times, and even a small increase in electricity rates will be harmful."
The agreement also determined FPL's range for profits, between 9.5 and 11.5 percent.
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