Rushing to sign a deal before the Nov. 7 Council election, the Vero Beach City Council yesterday voted 4-1 to approve an asset purchase agreement between the City and Florida Power and Light. The deal will turn over ownership of Vero Electric to the state’s largest investor owned utility.
Councilman Richard Winger opposed signing the contract as it is written, siting concerns about a provision that will require the City to hand over the Indian River Shores portion of the electric system, if a full sale is ultimately blocked regulators, or by any one of 19 cities that most approve the deal.
Winger is not alone is raising concerns about the so-called partial sale. The Finance Commission, which recently agreed in principle to the benefits of a sale of the full system, cautioned the Council against agreeing to a partial sale under the terms offered by FPL.
Council members Harry Howle, Laura Moss and Lange Sykes, all of whom were elected with significant financial support from FPL and from Indian River Shores residents, approved the 500-page contract, pages of which were arriving at City Hall over the weekend.
Councilman Tony Young, apparently with a eye toward a re-election bid next November, also voted to approve a contract which had not been reviewed by the Utilities and Finance Commission, and which, given the lateness of the hour, could hardly have been fully reviewed by himself or by any member of the Council.
Along with Howle, Moss and Sykes, Young compliantly approved a 500 page agreement that even the City Attoeney had not had time to review. It was not exactly Young’s most courageous moment.
Though the FPL-controlled council members, along with Young’s support, managed to get the deal approved before the Nov. 7 election, the power sale remains an issue.
An FPL-funded political action committee, Clean Sweep for a Brighter Tomorrow, is running ads urging voters to support Howle and Val Zudans based on their enthusiasm of the power sale. FPL recently contributed no less than $50,000 to Clean Sweep. The Press Journal made its endorsements based on the power sale, as did the island weekly.
These attempt to continue to make the coming election about the power sale render Press Journal reporter Colleen Wixon’s observations more than a little ironic. In a story published yesterday Wixon wrote, “The 4-1 vote brings to a close a debate that has dominated local politics – and filtered into other governments as well – for more than 40 years.”
To listen to Wixon’s editorial board, and to read Clean Sweep’s political advertising, the debate is far from over. In truth, what the FPL-funded PAC is seeking, with assistance from the Press Journal and the island weekly, is a Council majority that will be inclined to approve any future changes FPL may propose to the asset purchase agreement.
If a sale of the full system receives all the necessary approval and is concluded on the terms approved yesterday, the deal will have some short terms benefits to the City. Most importantly, a full sale will give the City enough in proceeds to pay off unfunded pension obligations. The City will also begin to collect a 6% franchise fee on power bills.
What seem unlikely are the promised savings in power bills local residents will be expecting. Over the past several years, Vero Electric has reduced it s rates, while FPL’s rates have been rising, and by all estimates, will continue to rise.
Essentially, the power sale came together for two reasons. FPL President and C.E.O., Eric Silagy, was determined to have his way, and he had at his disposal the financial resources to buy the political support needed to push the deal through. Finally, Vero Beach’s handing over of its electric system proves that nothing dies harder than a bad idea.