Fla. utility seeks rate increase to pay for upgrades, nuclear and solar, but regulators turn it down

Florida Power & Light, which spent $6 million and 10 months lobbying state regulators to raise the rates its customers pay by $1.3 billion, on Wednesday got virtually nothing.

The Public Service Commission unanimously rejected the company's request to raise its base rates 30 percent, allowing an increase of only $75.4 million, about 75 cents a month on a 1,000-kilowatt-hour bill. The commission dismissed nearly every major issue FPL raised, saying that in a better economy the company might have done better. ``Utilities are just going to have to make do in these difficult economic times,'' said Commissioner Nathan Skop.

Because of a reduction in fuel costs, FPL's 4.5 million customers will pay about $13 a month less for 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2010 than they did in 2009 for the same amount of electricity.

FPL Chief Executive Officer Armando Olivera predicted the ruling will make it very difficult for the company to attract financing for new projects. He said FPL will suspend all major capital projects, including building a new nuclear plant at Turkey Point, updating some of its generators, constructing a natural gas pipeline and other projects he said would have created 5,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs in 2010.

That claim was immediately challenged by attorneys who represented the opponents in the rate case: Florida's attorney general, the state's largest businesses and Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represented consumers in the rate case. Kelly said the construction of a new nuclear power plant ``had nothing to do with this case'' and that FPL has already been given approval to have its nuclear costs reimbursed by customers. The commission previously rejected FPL's pipeline plan as too expensive.

FPL sought the rate increase to invest $16 billion in projects over five years to strengthen power lines, modernize existing power plants and increase nuclear and solar power generation.

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