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County, Shores move to back Vero at PSC on electric sale


When Vero Beach and Florida Power & Light go up against those who want the Florida Public Service Commission to reverse its approval of the $185 million Vero electric sale, Indian River County and Indian River Shores plan to have Vero’s back.

About 60 percent of Vero’s 34,000 electric customers live in the Shores and the unincorporated county, so attorneys for both entities want a seat at the table when the dispute is adjudicated.

County Attorney Dylan Reingold on Monday filed a formal Petition to Intervene in the case. And last Thursday the Shores Town council unanimously approved up to $10,000 for utilities attorney Bruce May of Holland and Knight to do the same.

PSC approval of the sale has been challenged by two individuals, plus by two attorneys on behalf of organizations or groups. Those appeals are scheduled to be heard by the PSC Oct. 8 and 9 in Tallahassee.

Attorney and former Vero Councilwoman Lynne Larkin claims to represent 900 unnamed members of the nebulous Civic Association of Indian River County, saying the sale process has lacked transparency and the full, informed consent of Vero’s residents.

Attorney Jon Moyle Jr. filed a challenge on behalf of the Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG), which he says is an interested coalition of large, commercial electric customers of FPL. Moyle argues that his members, also unnamed, would end up funding the $116.2 million acquisition adjustment FPL wants to book so Vero has enough money to exit its long-term power contracts, to pay off debt and have $30 million in residual cash.

Councilman Dick Haverland asked what benefits becoming an official intervenor would confer on the Shores and the county. Councilman Bob Auwaerter said the town’s attorney or representatives would sit up front with the rest of the parties, and would likely get more time to present the plight of the Shores residents to the commission, as public comment from the podium is typically limited to three minutes or less.

“The town needs to push back at some point and say our residents are behind this deal,” Auwaerter said.

Reingold explained his action “means I can take discovery. It also means we would be subject to discovery, but we are already covered by the Sunshine laws.”

“Can we find out who the members of FIPUG are?” Vice Mayor Mike Ochsner asked.

Reingold said a list of the members of FIPUG would likely be among the documents he would request as an intervenor. The Shores, for example, could also request the same of Larkin and her Civic Association. FPL attorneys have already filed documents with the PSC questioning Larkin’s standing to file an objection with the PSC. Interrogatories in the case are flying back and forth from the various parties, according to the PSC docket record.

Town Attorney Chester Clem, who rarely interjects on council matters except to prevent the council from running afoul of Florida Statute, offered a pretty forceful recommendation on the matter, saying having the county there as an intervenor and not the Shores would be a big mistake, calling the current circumstances surrounding the Vero electric sale “most unusual and detrimental” to the town.

So far Shores taxpayers – 20 percent of whom are already FPL customers but support the community-wide effort toward cheaper electric rates across the board – have spent about $1 million on legal and consultant fees for lawsuits and other efforts related to pushing the Vero electric sale.

“I agree that we should intervene, if they accept us. We’ve been in this situation for so long that we should do everything we can,” Mayor Tom Slater said.