In a recent column about the Public Service Commission's soft-ball questioning of the new Progress Energy boss (Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers), I encouraged fuming readers to write to the commission and make their outrage known.
After all, it is the Public Service Commission and commissioners should be trying to please more than utility executives.
At least one reader took me up on it. He wrote to commissioners and called Progress' recent $500,000 check to the Republican Party "unacceptable."
"What gives this company the right to petition for rate increases when such a large amount of my and others' money is being used to fund political parties?" wrote Anthony Borka.
"If I were a customer of WalMart and didn't like the store, I could go to Publix. But as a customer of Progress can I go to FPL or OUC? No, I can not," he wrote.
The next day Borka received a response -- not from any of the commissioners themselves, but presumably from the staff member assigned to handle such pesky complaints from the public.
Mark Futrell, director of the office of industry development and market analysis, attempted to calm Borka's concerns this way:
"The political contributions made by Progress Energy Inc. (now Duke Energy) are paid for by the shareholders of the holding company."
"Progress Energy Florida is the regulated electric utility which is an affiliate of Duke Energy. The electric rates of Progress Energy Florida are designed to only pay for the cost of providing electric service to its customers."
Oh, I see. So the money is separate. Somehow we're supposed to be comforted that our power bills aren't going to line politicians' pockets because there is some kind of mythical wall between shareholder dollars and ratepayer dollars.
That may be accurate on the accounting ledger, but we all know the practical truth. The shareholders have so much money to throw around to political causes because the ratepayers are continuously asked to pay more. More for base rates. More for building projects and new power sources.
If Progress Energy and other utilities had to go to Wall Street to raise money for their capital costs like other companies, than perhaps shareholders wouldn't feel quite so generous with their political largess.