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Bondholders must approve Shores electric sale


The new leader of the statewide power co-op that has long blocked Vero’s efforts to get out of the electric business delivered some good news to the Vero City Council about a pending deal to carve Indian River Shores electric customers out of Vero’s territory and sell them to Florida Power & Light for $30 million. He said the Shores sale is not, in theory, a problem.

Florida Municipal Power Association CEO Jacob Williams told the council that Vero’s membership covenants with the other FMPA cities and its bondholders prohibit the city from divesting itself of a substantial portion of the electric system, because electric revenues are seen as pledged in perpetuity to meet the FMPA’s financial obligations.

But because the 3,000 Shores customers make up only about nine percent of Vero’s system, the sale would not be covered by the restriction, he said.

But Williams also said FMPA bondholders must sign off on the deal. “The bondholders just have to say that it’s not a significant risk,” Williams told the council, adding that the process of formally presenting the question to those bondholders “will take several months to work through.”

Williams, who hails from the Midwest where he served as a vice president of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, took the helm at FMPA in September. He replaced Nicholas Guarriello, who resigned after two years of intense scrutiny and a Florida Auditor General’s probe into FMPA’s finances, management practices and losses incurred due to risky fuel hedging and millions sunk into a planned coal plant that never received a permit.

Despite expressions of outrage by legislators over the audit, and cries that consumers served by the FMPA’s 31 member cities need protection from soaring rates, attempts to impose state regulation on the FMPA failed miserably in the Florida Legislature last year. The FMPA and its political wing, the Florida Municipal Electric Association, employed Tallahassee heavy hitters to lobby hard against any meaningful oversight, and it worked.

Mayor Laura Moss invited Williams to appear at the Jan. 3 city council meeting because she believes greater collaboration with the city’s perceived opponents will reap more success than the adversarial approach pursued up until now.

The FMPA has been viewed by many in Vero as a cloistered, armed camp working at cross-purposes with the city and Moss thought a first-ever appearance by the organization’s new chief might help clear the air. “It’s a new year, a fresh start,” she said.

As part of that fresh start, the council asked Williams to help Vero chart a course toward a complete sale of its electric system, which Williams agreed to do. He said FMPA staff would work on figuring out Vero’s exit costs and options while simultaneously working to obtain bondholder approval for the Shores sale. Councilman Tony Young asked if a partial sale would delay the work toward a full sale and Williams responded that it would not.  

“We’re all in favor of a full sale, but we understand that the full sale will take quite a bit longer,” Moss said.