Next Senate Budget Chief Targeting City Utilities

Oct 3, 2016

Incoming Senate budget chair Jack Latvala is criticizing Tallahassee’s recovery efforts after Hurricane Hermine and is threatening to put locally owned utilities under state regulation.  But not everyone agrees it would be a good idea.

Criticism over Tallahassee's recovery from Hurricane Hermine has a powerful lawmaker rethinking the way locally owned utilities are regulated.

Latvala is a Clearwater Republican with a reputation for bluntness. He says Tallahassee’s struggle to restore power after Hermine is a red flag.

He says it might show local utilities aren’t up to a big job like preparing for -- and recovering from -- major storms.

“You know, sometimes it takes a natural disaster like this to point out stuff that maybe you should have known all along…”

Latvala says he’s definitely going to file a bill, but he says it’s too early to give the details. He says there will likely be a bigger role for the Public Service Commission, which right now regulates the big, investor owned utilities.

But the Florida Municipal Electric Association’s Barry Moline warns the move would be a big mistake. Moline says local utilities would face higher legal fees and their bond ratings could fall.

“Any time a utility engages with the PSC you have to effectively lawyer up. You have to have a team of high-priced attorneys. It’s a judicial setting and you have to have the proper representation.”

Moline says a report praised Tallahassee’s post-Hermine recovery, although he said the utility it working on a plan to improve communication with customers.   

About 25 percent of Floridians are served by locally owned utilities or cooperatives.