A House committee on Tuesday approved a sweeping overhaul of the Public Service Commission aimed at preventing questions about ethics and relationships with regulated utilities that rocked the panel beginning in 2009.
The committee bill (ENUS 11-02) would make several changes to the PSC, including tightening rules against ex parte communications, implementing new education requirements for commissioners and -- in the provision that proved most controversial Tuesday allowing the attorney general to appoint the public counsel.
Referring to revelations about communications between commissioners and members of the PSC, Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor, said the legislation fixes many of those concerns that people had over the years.
It keeps out the special interests, Nehr said. It keeps absolute protection for the consumers we have in Florida.
But a handful of members of the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee worried about moving the public counsels office from the Legislature to the attorney generals office. Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said the counsel should continue to be overseen by lawmakers and that the public counsel could get lost in the shuffle if folded into the attorney generals duties.
We are hiding it, Williams said. We are tucking it under the covers.
While not taking a position on the measure, J.R. Kelly -- the current public counsel -- said he had never been subject to undue pressure from lawmakers.
Ive never been influenced by a member of the Legislature in any way, shape or form, other than to do my job to the best of my ability, Kelly said.
But Nehr said moving the position to the attorney generals office would strengthen it.
An amendment to keep the counsels office as part of the Legislature was defeated on a 12-3 vote.
The panel also approved a measure (ENUS 11-01) that would allow investor-owned utilities to raise rates by 2 percent to help pay for renewable energy projects. That would increase the bill for a typical household by an average of $2.83 a month and for a large commercial customer by an average of $356.30, according to the PSC.
Jon Moyle, of the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, noted that the cost of the proposal could boost rates $2 billion over five years, and suggested it was an attempt to get money for the industry while population growth in Florida slows.
We dont have a need for new energy, Moyle said.
But supporters said the state needed to move forward with renewable energy.
The time is really now, said Dan Holladay, who works with emerging technologies at semiconductor consortium Sematech. We have an important opportunity working together to lead the United States transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy economy that is good for the environment, good for business and good for Florida.