Consumers say no way to FPL rate hike request

(MIAMI HERALD)   From retirees to small business owners, people had a message Thursday for Florida Power & Light: Don’t increase our rates.

The utility, which serves 873,000 people in Broward and 1,009,000 people in Miami-Dade, is seeking permission from the Florida Public Service Commission to hike base rates by $1 billion starting Jan. 1.

The utility says the increase, if approved by the PSC, would add $12.40 to the monthly electric bill of the customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month.

The PSC held hearings Thursday morning at the Broward County Main Library in Fort Lauderdale to give customers and consumer groups a chance to weigh in. About 150 people showed up and many said they could not afford an increase at this time.

”I appreciate FPL and its service, but as a retiree, I cannot afford this raise,” said Alice Ritter of Lauderdale Lakes. “In my household, FPL is one of my highest bills.”

FPL is asking for a change to its base rate — which makes up about 40 percent of a customer’s bill — so that it can strengthen its infrastructure and its balance sheet.

The company also wants to boost its rate of return to shareholders to 12.5 percent, according to its regulatory filings.

FPL officials say the rate increase would be offset by an anticipated decrease in fuel costs of $16.42 a month starting Jan. 1. According to that estimate, monthly electric bills are expected to go down from $107.04 to $104.63 — a $2.41 drop.

Representatives of some state agencies also spoke out against FPL’s rate hike. J.R. Kelly, who heads the Office of Public Counsel, the state agency that represents consumers, said a 12.5 percent of return on investment “is just too much today.”

”The average rate of return nationwide is 10.29 percent and we’re going to argue that FPL’s return on investment should be between 9 and 10 percent,” he said.

The Public Service Commission, which regulates state utilities, will decide in mid-November whether to grant FPL’s rate increase for 2010. The utility also is asking the PSC for permission to increase its base rate by $247 million by 2011.

For the past week, commissioners have been visiting several cities, where they have heard customers discuss their experiences with FPL.

The commission will hold hearings at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Miami Science Museum, 3280 S. Miami Ave., at 9 a.m. Friday at the North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami, and a third meeting at 6 p.m. Friday at the Plantation City Council Chambers, 400 NW 73rd Ave.

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