In what is yet another setback for the Town of Indian River Shores, Public Service Commission staff today released a long-awaited and highly-anticipated recommendation on the Town’s petition to assign to Florida Power & Light the portion of the Town now served by Vero Electric.
In short, PSC staff concluded, “The (Shores’) Petition fails to show that modifying the Territorial Orders is necessary to the public interest or that it would not be detrimental to the public interest.”
Though the legal arguments for and against the Shores’ request are numerous and nuanced, perhaps the Achilles heel in the Town’s argument is found in the 1968 Florida Supreme Court ruling in Story v. Mayo. In that case, the Court held, “[a]n individual has no organic, economic or political right to service by a particular utility because he deems it advantageous to himself.”
Just last week, the Shores Town Council and the Vero Beach City Council took action effectively ending what has been long and expensive litigation between the two municipalities. Together, the Shores and Vero Beach have spent more than $1 million on the case.
If the PSC follows its staff’s advice when it meets July 7, Shores leaders will still have the option to appeal that decision to the Florida Supreme Court. But Shores leaders may be reluctant to continue their legal fight, given that the County Commission was soundly rebuffed when it took a similar case to the Florida Supreme Court.
More likely, Shores leaders will now put their full effort into pursuing a so-called “partial” sale of Vero Electric’s Shores customers to FPL. To date, FPL has offered $13 million, but Vero Beach leaders, advised by several consultants, have concluded handing over Vero Electric’s 3400 Shores customers for anything less than $42.5 million will hurt the remaining customers.
In a City Council meeting this week, Councilman Richard Winger said, “This $42.5 million number is real. Any number other than that, as far as I am concerned, is not open to negotiation.”
Winger continued, “I will never go for anything that penalizes the people of Vero Beach.”
Vice Mayor Randy Old agreed, “We have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our citizens, and I don’t think we can go ahead and sell for something that would hurt them.”
Mayor Jay Kramer, who just this week asked for and received permission to continue discussions with Shores leaders, has consistently argued against selling at a price or in a way that would leave Vero Electric’s remaining customers paying higher rates.
Expressing doubts about the $42.5 million number, Councilwoman Pilar Turner said she wants to see Vero Beach and the Shores “work a deal.” Like Turner, Councilman Harry Howle said he has no confidence in the estimate of utility experts. He and Turner both seem inclined to settle for a number much closer to FPL’s offer of $13 million.
In advising the Commission, staff offered guidance which members of the Vero Beach City Council, Howle and Turner in particular, might be wise to consider, as they now turn to exploring a so-called “partial” sale. “…the Commission must consider all affected customers, both those transferred and those not transferred, and ensure that any modifications works no detriment to the public interest as a whole,” PSC staff wrote.
One would hope Turner and Howle believe the same is true of their responsibilities to the residents and taxpayers of Vero Beach.