Worth Quoting

Mark Mucher
Mark Mucher

“I hope everyone can understand why I am confused.”

COMMENTARY

MARK SCHUMANN

Mark Mucher, a civic activist, and a frequent speaker during public comment time at City Council, Utilities Commission and Finance Commission meetings, came forward today to challenge information presented by Finance Commission chairman Peter Gorry. Gorry recently made a presentation to the Utilities Commission on how rates are established for investor-owned utilities. His report included a statewide electric rate comparisons for all utilities. As Gorry gave the Finance Commission a summery of his report, Mucher, apparently, did not like what he heard.

Referring to information Gorry gathered rate hike requests the state’s for-profit utilities have filed with the Florida Public Service Commission, Mucher said, “You have these top secret October reports. How can we just take your word for it?”

Gorry explained that the rate hike request are filed with the PSC and are public information. Information on rate trends for the state’s 33 municipal utilities Gorry said is available from the Florida Municipal Electric Association. In reply to Mucher’s challenge of the accuracy and veracity of the report, Gorry gave him the telephone number for the executive director of the FMEA.

Gorry reported that of the 39 electric utilities in Florida, 15 have rates higher than Vero Electric. Four of the state’s 6 investor owned utilities and 11 municipal utilities have rates higher than Vero Electric. The fact that Vero Electric and many other municipal utilities have rates lower than a number of investor-owned utilities does not keep some, including Mucher, from arguing that municipal utilities cannot compete with for-profit utilities.

Also challenging Gorry, Finance Commission member Dan Stump said, “You seem to think Vero Electric can compete in the electric business.”

Stump recently headed up a political action committee that attacked Vero Beach City Council candidates Sharon Gorry, Randy Old and Tony Young, while supporting Laura Moss, Lange Sykes and Norman Wells. The PAC received all of its $106,000 in campaign contributions from Indian River Shores residents and from Florida Power and Light. The utility giant gave Stump’s PAC $55,000.

Reiterating his earlier statement, Gorry replied to Stump, “My point is that of the 39 electric utilities in Florida, 15 have rates higher than Vero Electric.”

Mucher accused Gorry of averaging the rates for the state’s six investor owned utilities without weighting the calculation to account for the wide disparity in the size of their customer bases.  Gorry explained that his calculations did, in fact, result in a weighted average for the four investor owned utilities with rates higher than Vero Electric. According to Gorry, as of 2017, the weighted average rate for 1000 kilowatt hours of electricity from those for investor owned utilities, which serve 2.1 million customers, will be $121.96. In comparison, Vero Electric’s rate in January will be $116.05.

These numbers do not change the fact that Florida Power and Light’s rates are significantly lower than Vero Electric, but they do raise questions about the claim made by Indian River Shores leaders that Vero Electric’s rates are abusive and unreasonable. Regardless of how Vero Electric’s rates compare with other Florida utilities, with the recent election of Laura Moss and Lange Sykes to the City Council, it seems all but certain they will be joined by Harry Howle in supporting a sale of Vero Electric’s Indian River Shores customers to FPL. They have pledged to accept FPL’s $30 million offer, though a team of five independent utility experts concluded a sale for less than $47 million will lead to higher rates for the remaining customers.

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