FPL's CEO to retire after 40 years; successor named

— Eric Silagy has been named the new president of Florida Power & Light Co. as the utility prepares to seek a base rate hike in 2012.

On Monday, Florida Power & Light Company President and CEO Armando J. Olivera, 62, announced that he plans to retire in May when he will reach his 40th anniversary with the company.

Silagy, senior vice president of regulatory and state government affairs at FPL since 2010, succeeds Olivera. The appointment, approved by the board Friday, became effective Monday.

The rate case must be filed with the Florida Public Service Commission by April 1 to be effective by 2013, and Silagy said he could not provide the amount Monday. The 2010 settlement agreement reduced FPL's rate request from more than $1 billion to $75.5 million.

"We have a settlement agreement that has effectively frozen our rates for the last three years. That settlement expires at the end of next year," Silagy, 46, of Palm Beach Gardens, said Monday at FPL headquarters.

"We're still sharpening our pencils," Silagy said.

Olivera will continue to serve as CEO until May 2, when Silagy will step into that role as well.

"After all these working years, I want more time for my family, friends, to 'give back' and hopefully learn one or two new things," Olivera wrote in a letter to employees.

FPL, which has 10,000 employees, is a subsidiary of Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NEE).

After earning an economics degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Silagy headed for Washington. He became interested in the energy industry while working for then-Louisiana Sen. J. Bennett Johnston.

Johnston, who retired in 1997, chaired the energy and natural resources committee.

"I started out opening the mail three days a week and was promoted to opening the mail five days a week," Silagy said. He left the office as Johnston's chief of his staff when the Congressman retired.

A self-described "military brat," Silagy grew up as the son of an Air Force officer. His dad retired from the Pentagon when Silagy was 8, and the family moved to Shreveport, La.

Silagy's exposure to the energy industry while he worked for Johnston and attended Georgetown University Law Center at night set him on a path that led to his new job.

"The less time you have, the more productive you make it," said Silagy, who met his wife Laura in Washington, where she was also a congressional aide.

Before joining NextEra Energy Resources, the company's competitive energy arm, in 2003, he worked for Entergy Wholesale Operations in Houston and before that, for The Wing Group, a subsidiary of Western Resources, in Southeast Asia.

"I'm filling some very big shoes," Silagy said. "It's humbling. It's exciting as well."

Silagy, who was named Florida Power & Light's chief development officer in 2007, led the development of Florida's first utility-scale solar generation, comprising 110 megawatts at three sites. He also oversaw the West County 3 combined-cycle natural gas plant in Palm Beach County and the ongoing modernization of the Riviera Beach and Cape Canaveral power plants' modernization.

"I'm very proud of the solar projects that we built here in Florida," Silagy said. "It's very easy to talk about doing those things. It's different when you have to actually execute around those."

A forward-thinking approach and thinking outside the box have been instilled in him by Olivera and others, he said, and is what attracted him to move to Florida to work for the company.

While natural gas has been in the spotlight recently, FPL has been moving toward it for a decade, Silagy said. Ten years ago the company used 40 million barrels of oil a year to produce electricity. At today's prices, that would equal $4 billion a year that would be going mostly overseas.

Next year FPL will burn about 100,000 barrels of oil.

"I think anything we can do to make sure that America is not dependent on other countries for its energy supply is smart," Silagy said.

FPL's nuclear plants in St. Lucie and Miami-Dade counties are increasing their capacity and customers are benefiting from fuel savings as a result of investments made there in the 1970s, he said.

"It produces a tremendous amount of power 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Silagy said. "The alternative is to produce electricity, here in Florida at least, by burning natural gas, or oil or coal. Even using the most fuel efficient and the cleanest form of natural gas in the world today, you're still going to be producing millions of tons of CO2, greater than you would in a nuclear project. There's a balance to all of this."

Changing of the guard at Florida Power & Light

Retiring President

Armando Olivera, 62: Has worked at FPL for 40 years. Joined the company in 1972 as an engineer trainee. Served as president and chief executive officer since 2003. Grew up in Miami. Lives in Riviera Beach. Holds an electrical engineering

degree from Cornell University and a master's in business administration from the University of Miami.

New President

Eric Silagy, 46: Joined NewEra Energy Resources, the company's competitive energy subsidiary, in 2003. He was named chief development officer for Florida Power & Light in 2007 and was named senior vice president of regulatory and state government affairs in 2010. Grew up in Louisiana. Lives in Palm Beach Gardens.

Holds an economics degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.