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Delay in PSC’s formal approval of electric sale not seen delaying close


An unexpected 10-day delay in the Florida Public Service Commission’s formal ruling following a June 5 vote to approve the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light is not likely to hinder an Oct. 1 closing, in which the deal would be completed and the keys to the utility handed over to FPL.

Typically, a formal ruling intended to flesh out and justify the PSC’s action would be published within 10 days of a vote, a period that was up last Friday, June 15.

Now, however, the PSC website shows an adjusted due date of June 25 for that document, meaning the 21-day review period for the ruling, during which anyone with proper standing can challenge the decision, will extend to mid-July.

The PSC’s 3-2 vote went against the staff’s recommendation that Vero electric customers pay a hefty post-sale surcharge to make FPL’s 4.9 million customers whole from the $185 million Vero transaction. The action was a departure from the PSC’s customary practice of affirming staff recommendations, sometimes with a few tweaks.

Producing a formal opinion in those cases means simply adapting the very detailed explanations, citations and precedential information from the recommendations that PSC staffers toiled over for weeks.

But in this case, the ruling must be written from scratch, crafting a document that goes against the staff opinion and justifies the plan approved by three commissioners, plus careful language to make clear this ruling should not be used as precedent in any other case before the PSC or a court. The dissenting opinion of Chairman Art Graham and one other commissioner may also make a showing somewhere in the ruling, as in a split decision by a panel of justices.

Indian River Shores Councilman Bob Auwaerter, who also chairs the Vero Beach Utilities Commission and who spoke in Tallahassee on June 5 before the PSC, said Sunday that he’s not overly concerned about the delay.

“Apparently, in talking to our utility lawyer, this does happen on occasion. I am not going to infer any cosmic significance to it,” Auwaerter said. “We waited this long; we will just have to hang on a few days longer.”

Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle, who receives regular briefings from the city’s legal team and from FPL, also was optimistic, knowing that everything in government takes longer during the summer when legal or clerical staff might be on vacation.

“It certainly is curious that ‘deadlines’ can be pushed back with what one hopes is an arbitrary reason.  I can’t imagine why this might be the case, but I’m still very confident and optimistic at this point,” Howle said.

With the advance work that FPL and Vero have already accomplished, including work on customer databases, making inroads with employees to continue on in key roles with FPL – most importantly the naming of Vero’s Director of Electric Utility Operations Ted Fletcher to head up the technical transition team – a 10-day delay shouldn’t drastically hinder the parties’ ability to close the sale as anticipated on Oct. 1.

“I cannot think of a reason this sale will not continue, as planned, arbitrary PSC filing date or not,” Howle said.