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With rates down, utility activist calling it a day

Photo: Utility activist Dr. Steve Faherty is retiring from public life

A few months shy of his 80th birthday, Moorings resident and tireless utility activist Dr. Steve Faherty is retiring from public life to savor a summer of low electric bills.

After 11 years in the trenches, Faherty last week sent out a last “Utility Update” email to his distribution list.  In it he said, “It is up to others to solve some of the remaining utility issues of the City.”

Taxation without representation – Vero siphoning off $5.6 million each year in direct transfers to its general fund from utility revenue, more than 60 percent of that from customers outside the city limits –and sky-high electric rates that broke records in the summer of 2009 were Faherty’s two prime motivators.

“Why were people outside the city being, in effect, taxed?” Faherty said Monday, as he looked back on the origins of his activism efforts.

He also looked at the way Vero’s electric utility and other municipal electric utilities were run to try and figure out why the cost here was so much greater than the benefit.

The solution to the problems he zeroed in on became crystal clear almost immediately: the only way out of both of those bad situations was to sell Vero electric outright to Florida Power and Light.

Local CPA Glenn Heran worked alongside Faherty nearly the entire 11 years. “The truth is that this issue would simply not exist if it wasn’t for Steve,” said Heran, who has purposely faded from public life himself the past couple of years. “Dedication, perseverance and loyalty, that is Steve Faherty. He just would not give up.”

Heran and Faherty spent evenings and weekends making their case to every condo board, civic club and homeowners’ association that would listen. They showed up relentlessly to every Vero Beach City Council meeting to preach about selling to FPL.

“To the City Council at the time – Tom White, Sabe Abell and that whole crew – we were like crazy guys holding cardboard signs. They didn’t want to hear anything we had to say,” Heran said.

Then something changed. Promises of lower electric rates never materialized. Sweet deals negotiated for Vero electric turned sour. There were implications of shady dealings with the bidding of power contracts. Important documents were squirreled away in Boston.

“Stuff just kept coming out and out and out. One thing after another, battling misinformation,” Faherty said. It was just enough to turn the tide – and to turn resistant City Council members out on the street at election time.

“Part of it was the education of the public about the issue. I am grateful to Vero Beach 32963, you all supported that from the beginning,” he said.

The next eight or nine years, as they say, is history and Faherty says he now saves roughly 30 to 35 percent each month on his electric bill. “I have neighbors who say they are saving 40 or 45 percent,” Faherty said.

Some people might be sad to see Faherty ride off into the sunset, but at least one person is elated. Joyce Faherty gets her life back now, too. “She’s glad that it’s over, that the sale is finished and that I am out.”

The phone calls all hours of the day and night have stopped, but Faherty is still keeping busy. “I’ve been doing some genealogy work, catching up with that, and clearing out clutter,” he said.

Two file boxes hold hard copies of Faherty’s research on the electric utility issue. He can’t quite bring himself to throw them away yet. But he’s relocated them from his home office to, ironically, a utility room, right next to the hot water heater. “So if that water heater breaks that takes care of what to do with all of it,” he laughed.