by Deb Cupples | Florida's Public Service Commission is supposed to protect us consumers and keep utility companies in check -- not the other way around. Unfortunately, some members of the PSC seem awfully chummy with the very utility company folks that the PSC is supposed to regulate. The Buzz (a St. Pete Times blog) reports:
"[S]elf-described Public Service Commission investigator Steve Stewart reports that PSC Commissioner Katrina McMurrian has repeatedly raised conflict of interest questions with her attendance at both utility-sponsored events and private dinners. Both events were closed to the public and officials from the utility companies she regulates were in attendance. Take a look.
"We can't vouch for the balance of the report -- there is no obvious response from McMurrian -- but it's clear Stewart has solid documents and his timeline raises serious questions about McMurrian's judgment that the commissioner should answer."
Ms. McMurrian is one of three commissioners appointed to the five-member PSC by industry-friendly ex-governor Jeb Bush (yes, brother of our nation's industry-friendly ex-president George Bush).
The old, Bush-based PSC didn't seem to keen on scrutinizing how utility companies dealt with their customers. For an example, check out the paragraphs below from a 2008 Miami Herald article about what some call the Sunshine Energy scam:
"For almost five years, Florida Power & Light trumpeted green energy, saying customers could help the environment by contributing as little as $9.75 a month to buy renewable power."
"About 39,000 customers signed up. In April, the U.S. Department of Energy called the program, Sunshine Energy, one of the top 10 residential green power programs in the country.
[Commissioner Skop commented:]
"About $9 million in customers' money had gone 'into a black hole where there is no transparency. . . . Clearly this is not right....
"'No reasonable person would have contributed to this program knowing that 80 percent' of their money 'was not going to renewables.'" (Miami Herald)
In other words, the old Bush-based PSC approved the program back in 2004 -- without much oversight or scrutiny -- and the program ended up amounting to a $9+ million scam against 30,000+ Florida consumers.
It took the PSC four years (until 2008) to recognize its mistake and kill the program.
It wasn't until the consumer-friendly Crist appointees on the PSC (Argenziano and Skop) started shining a spotlight that the problem was (somewhat) resolved.
For a while, anyway, it seemed that the PSC's old Bush-appointees (a three-member majority) were at odds with Crist's two, new, consumer-friendly appointees. [See Channel 10, "Shouting and Finger Pointing on Florida's Public Service Commission"]
As I've said before, it was wise of Gov. Crist to appoint consumer-friendly PSC members like Argenziano and Skop.
One of the old Bush-appointees is coming up for re-appointment soon: Ms. McMurrian, the one now being accused of improper dealings with industry folks.
I hope that Gov. Crist will replace that commissioner with a truly consumer-friendly appointee, who can form a consumer-protecting majority with Argenziano and Skop.
Not only would this course of action benefit us Florida consumers, but it would also increase Gov. Crist's bipartisan appeal as he runs for U.S. Senate in 2010 -- as would any distancing of himself from the Jeb Bush network.
Related Buck Naked Politics Posts: