This week the Public Service Commission sent a clear message to Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light: For now, the state's largest investor-owned utilities are the ones in the dark.
The PSC, which regulates the price of electricity and other utilities, denied the two companies' requests for increases to customers' rates and their own profit margins, giving them virtually nothing despite the millions of dollars they spent lobbying their cases.
The decisions usher in a new era for customers, who now seem to be the ones with the influence — at least during this election year, in which everyone from Gov. Charlie Crist to legislators have taken up the populist cause of electricity rates.
Commissioners cited the tough economy as a major reason customers shouldn't be stuck with bigger bills. The decisions come as the first big tests for two new commissioners appointed by Crist in an attempt to clean house in the wake of revelations that certain PSC staff members had grown too cozy with utility executives.
FPL Group Chairman Lew Hay said the verdict was fueled by "politics."
He's right about that. PSC rulings are almost always driven by politics on some level. This time, it's just not the kind of politics that the utilities are accustomed to in Tallahassee.
And, the power companies point out, that will be felt all the way to Wall Street, where credit-rating agencies have discussed downgrading the companies, making it difficult for them to get financing for projects.
Utilities fear an uncertain regulatory environment, for which Florida is now a poster child, more than they fear a Category 5 hurricane barreling toward their service area.
But unlike a hurricane, this political maelstrom won't be followed by a sense of calm anytime soon. Watch for some intense lobbying when the Legislature meets in March. Several lawmakers are considering new rules to govern the PSC and Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who is appointed by lawmakers to represent customers in rate cases, may be left fighting for his job. And, Progress and FPL could go back to the PSC for a second attempt at an increase.
Developer rewards teachers
In the real-estate business, the reputation of public schools can drive the bottom line as much as luxury finishes or quaint town centers.
Avalon Park developer Beat Kahli knows that and as a reward for Avalon Park Elementary School's performance as the top-ranked FCAT scorer in Orange County last year, he is sending a group of teachers from the east Orange County school on a nearly all-expenses paid trip to China.
Back when Avalon Park was still in the development stages in the late 1990s, Kahli said he held focus groups with real-estate brokers who told him, "You need brand new schools, good schools."
"Our idea is to sustain value for the community, and one of the best moves in my opinion is to invest into the education of teachers and they will bring it back to the students, and that's the philosophy of a great neighborhood," he said.
The trip this summer will include 34 teachers and staff members, who have been studying China. The teachers will pay a portion of their airfare, but their hotels, meals and tour costs will be covered by the developer.
And look for more development in Avalon Park this year, geared toward the grandparents of those elementary-school kids. Kahli said he is moving ahead with plans to build an assisted living facility.
Stewart, Soto in Colombia
Orange County Commissioner and mayoral candidate Linda Stewart, along with Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, headed to Colombia this week in an effort to find out about bringing clean tech businesses to Orlando.
The trip was organized by the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.
Stewart, who said she is paying her own way, said she will pitch Colombian business leaders and government officials on potential opportunities here. She said her focus will be on the future of commuter and light rail as well as Orlando's growing health-care sector.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/thebottomline.