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PSC staff puts electric sale back on track


The team that’s worked on the Vero electric sale to Florida Power & Light for nearly a decade knows better than to get too excited over small victories, but a staff recommendation published Friday by the Florida Public Service Commission’s top legal, financial and technical personnel is pretty fantastic news, just the same.

After a one-day extension of the Nov. 15 due date for the report, the staff reversed its previous opposition to FPL booking a $116.2 million acquisition adjustment as part of the Vero electric purchase.

Last summer, the staff objected to the adjustment, or overpayment, saying that the Vero case did not present “extraordinary circumstances” that would warrant FPL paying more than twice the book value for the utility’s assets and 34,000 electric customers.

That extra cash, which makes up the bulk of the $185 million sale price, will allow Vero to extricate itself from two long-term wholesale power agreements with the Orlando Utilities Commission ($20 million) and the Florida Municipal Power Agency ($108 million).

In June, three members of the commission disregarded the staff’s opinion and voted on the side of FPL and Vero Beach, approving the deal. Two members, including Chairman Art Graham, echoed the staff’s position and dissented.

Then, the June decision was appealed, necessitating a hearing on Oct. 18 so attorney Lynne Larkin could present evidence and cross-examine witnesses to try to bolster the objections her Civic Association of Indian River County has to the sale.

After that hearing, the PSC staff reviewed everything again and came up with its now positive assessment, recommending approval of the sale as negotiated between Vero and FPL.

Next Tuesday morning, the PSC is scheduled to vote on whether to follow the staff recommendation and uphold its own June 5 approval of the sale and the accounting treatment. The staff’s reversal would seem to pave the way for a solid affirmation of the June vote, and the sale.

Utilities attorney Floyd Self, who represented Indian River County before the PSC in 2016 and the Florida Supreme Court in 2017 in the county’s effort to switch to FPL service once its 30-year electric franchise agreement with Vero expired, said the staff move was unusual. “Staff rarely reverses its position but it may after an evidentiary hearing, which is what happened here.”

If Chairman Graham hasn’t changed his position as well, it could make an interesting morning for the staff, as Graham has been pretty passionate about his views.

But the staff, which has been dealing with Vero electric for nine full years now, finally recognized in Friday’s document that Vero’s disgruntled ratepayers in the city, in unincorporated Indian River County and in Indian River Shores are not going away.

“Based upon the totality of the unique and unusual facts ... staff recommends that the Commission should find that extraordinary circumstances exist,” the staff concluded.

Tuesday’s special call hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. in Tallahassee.