PSC sets hearing on Shores’ bid to escape grasp of Vero electric
The Florida Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing June 9 to decide whether it will consider or dismiss the Town of Indian River Shores’ request that it look into the status of Vero Beach’s electric territory.
Eighty percent of Shores residents are served by Vero’s electric utility, while 20 percent get power from Florida Power & Light, paying substantially lower rates. The Town wants all residents to be served by FPL, but Vero says the Town lacks standing to ask the Public Service Commission to consider changing the bounds of Vero’s electric territory.
The Town alleges the PSC should open up the territory due to changed circumstances – the termination of Vero’s franchise agreement with the Shores when the agreement expires in November and the Town’s wish to bring all of its residents into FPL’s system.
Vero says its PSC-awarded service territory is virtually permanent and immune to whether or not it has a valid franchise agreement with the Shores; it has asked the PSC to dismiss the Shores’ complaint.
Should the PSC decide at the June hearing to move forward with the reevaluation the Town seeks, the Town’s attorneys want the Commission to host a public hearing in Indian River County to give ratepayers the chance to voice their concerns without trekking all the way to Tallahassee.
The PSC’s technical and legal staff needs to produce a detailed recommendation for the commission by May 26 in order for the June 9 hearing to take place, according to Shores’ lead utility attorney Bruce May of the Holland and Knight law firm.
If the staff cannot complete its work by that time, the matter will come before the PSC in August.
While the parties await the next steps in the PSC dispute, Indian River County and Shores customers also have an eye out for a Florida Supreme Court ruling expected in coming weeks. In December, County officials appealed to Florida’s high court, asking for clarification of the County’s rights with regard to the termination of its electric franchise with Vero in March 2017.
“There are an awful lot of moving parts,” May said on Monday, but the PSC territorial dispute would definitely be a game-changer should the Shores prevail. FPL has come out strongly supporting the Shores’ bid to have the territory reviewed.
With the PSC territorial dispute and the Florida Supreme Court ruling looming, Vero and the Shores negotiators have tentatively agreed – yet to be ratified by their respective councils – to shelve two related legal disputes for the time being.
The parties met for 15 minutes last Thursday as part of a state-mandated conflict resolution process aimed at ironing out a legal disagreement over whether or not Indian River Shores has the power to regulate Vero’s electric rates after the 30-year franchise agreement expires on Nov. 6. The Shores passed an ordinance last year giving itself that authority.
Under the tentative agreement, the Shores would postpone implementing the ordinance, and would give Vero up to one year’s notice should the Town plan to implement the rate control.
The negotiating teams also tentatively agreed to place a civil lawsuit, also disputing Vero’s electric rates, in abatement while the parties await the outcome of the PSC complaint.
Vero’s utility attorney Robert Scheffel “Schef” Wright warned that the process of preparing, presenting and considering a “rate case,” by which Vero would defend what it charges Shores residents, “would be very expensive.”
Shores Town Manager Robbie Stabe said after the meeting, “It’s a reasonable idea to abate the lawsuit while the PSC complaint moves forward,” adding that voluminous public records requests, interrogatories and other preparation for litigation sucks up staff time and results in mounting attorneys’ fees for everyone involved.