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Petition drive shows support for electric sale


Vero Beach residents have launched a quixotic grassroots petition drive against an attempt by the Florida Industrial Power Users Group (FIPUG) to derail the sale of Vero’s electric utility to Florida Power & Light.

Zaqary Sanders, a technician at Vero Councilman Val Zudans’ medical office, set up an internet petition at and to date nearly 900 people have signed.

The petition is addressed to  FIPUG, which objects to the price Florida Power & Light would pay for Vero’s electric system under the agreement approved June 5 by the Florida Public Service Commission.

By some calculations, FPL is paying $116.2 million more than the utility is worth, but FPL says the transaction will not impose a financial burden on its existing 4.9 million ratepayers.

FIPUG claims to represent multiple large commercial electric customers, including big-box retail stores and manufacturing plants, which draw power from FPL’s system.

The group’s attorney, Jon Moyle, says he wants the PSC to take another look at recouping those millions from Vero customers via a temporary surcharge, or from somewhere else other than his members’ pockets.

But Sanders says “many of FIPUG’s members already enjoy the benefits of being an FPL customer, and stand to gain even more when Vero Beach customers join FPL.”

His petition reads, “We the undersigned Vero Beach electric system customers request that the Florida Industrial Power Users Group drop its protest at the Florida Public Service Commission and allow the Vero Beach electric system sale to be completed.”

In addition to the 900 online signatures, Sanders says he has 248 signatures on paper petitions and intends to collect signatures through September. The PSC has scheduled hearings on FIPUG’s objections for Oct. 10 and 11 in Tallahassee.

“We had tables outside of both of the FPL open houses. We also had local business owners that are on Vero Electric offer to collect petitions for us,” Sanders said. “People are outraged. When you are paying $50 to $100 more for electricity than your neighbor across the street that has a similarly-sized house, it's extremely frustrating.”

The sale is sure to be a major issue in the November Vero Beach City Council election, but customers outside the city limits in the unincorporated county and Indian River Shores cannot vote for pro-sale candidates, no matter how passionately they want to become FPL customers.

“Many people, especially those in unincorporated parts of the county, have thanked me for starting the petition because it gives them a voice,” Sanders said.

Activist and former Vero councilman Charlie Wilson has taken aim at another challenge to the sale, the one filed by attorney Lynne Larkin on behalf of the Civic Association of Indian River County.

Larkin is protesting the $185 million deal on several grounds, including what she claims was a lack of adequate public input into the process.

Wilson, in a complaint to the Florida Bar Association filed on Aug. 7, says Larkin fabricated information to boost her chances of having standing with the PSC to object, and that she had no right to file the objection.

The two-page complaint with 15 pages of backup documents questions Larkin’s credibility, as well as that of the 900 members Larkin says she represents.

Items B and C of  Wilson’s complaint point out that “Ms. Larkin can show no evidence of a meeting of the Board of Directors or the membership where a vote was taken to authorize her to file a protest which resulted in great financial harm to the City of Vero Beach, its citizens, and its ratepayer. Ms. Larkin made numerous assertions in the petition that she knew to be false, including the number of members and other erroneous facts outlined in the backup provided.”

Wilson said he hopes going to the Bar might get some results with the PSC. “Before even considering the issues in the Larkin complaint, the [main] issue is standing, and it is clear that Ms. Larkin made false claims to achieve standing before the PSC – an action resulting in considerable damages to the City of Vero Beach. In my opinion she should be disbarred and held liable for legal fees and possible damages.”

On Aug. 21, Wilson plans to ask the Vero Beach City Council to initiate some sort of appropriate legal action against Larkin.

Larkin said on Monday, “I've not seen anything, so I can't comment on it specifically other than to say that if such a complaint was filed, it certainly goes to show the type of harassment levied by the (pro-sale) cabal at anyone who demands answers and accountability regarding such a momentously important transition for the City.”

Meanwhile, Vero Mayor Harry Howle has asked ratepayers to bombard PSC Chairman Art Graham with letters and emails expressing their support of the sale. Graham, a well-known fan of municipal-owned electric utilities, led the opposition to allowing FPL to book the $116.2 million acquisition adjustment.

“The recent appeal submitted by FIPUG is not entirely unexpected when you consider their history of appealing many FPL and PSC actions . . . [but] it’s disturbing that a group, which is not subject to paying Vero Beach electric rates, is so very interested in subverting the sale of our utility as structured,” said Mayor Howle.

“The next PSC hearing [in October] is an ‘evidentiary hearing’ which typically wouldn’t allow public comment without the express permission of the Chairman. We hope, public comment or not, the circulating petition will be representative of the community’s overwhelming desire to be done with these obstructing actions made by a powerful, far-off, lobbying group in Tallahassee.

“My hope would be to get 3,500 ratepayer signatures to be presented to the PSC. That would be approximately 10 percent of the ratepayers in the city and county,” Howle said.