11 a.m. update: About 75 people showed up at the morning public hearing in Plantation. Three dozen are schedule to speak -- including some FPL supporters.
Kenneth Thomas of Boca Raton said he opposes the proposed rate increase.
"Now is not the right time to be raising rates," Thomas said. "Everyone is struggling to live."
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Groups are lining up to speak Wednesday at two public hearings in Broward against a $690 million rate hike proposed by Florida Power & Light.
The first will be 9 a.m. at the Plantation City Council Chambers, 400 NW 73rd Ave., in Plantation. A second will be 4 p.m. at the South Regional/Broward College Library, 7300 Pines Blvd., in Pembroke Pines. The Florida Public Service Commission has been holding hearings around the state before it considers the rate increase.
The Florida Retail Federation sent its legal counsel to speak Wednesday in Broward against the proposed basic rate increase that spokesman John Fleming said would hurt thousands of members -- many of them mom-and-pop shops.
The proposed increase would amount to $7.09 more a month on the base part of a monthly bill for customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month. FPL predicts lower fuel costs will offset most of the increase, resulting in an increase of $1.41 a month on the total bill. Most of the increase would take effect in January, and the rest would start in June.
But Fleming of the retail federation said FPL is "asking for an excessive rate of return" -- up to 11.5 percent if the utility continues having the lowest typical bill in Florida. "They don't need the money," Fleming said.
Instead, the retail federation agrees with a 9 percent profit recommended by the office of Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, the state's advocate for utility customers.
"That's more than generous," Fleming said.
The proposed 11 percent has also upset members of AARP, an advocacy group for those 50 and older, said spokesman Dave Bruns.
Seniors are struggling to live on 2 percent CD interest rates while FPL is asking for more than five times those returns, Bruns said.
"That's got a lot of our members upset," he said.
However, FPL spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said that's an unfair comparison since CDs offer a guaranteed rate of return.
Hofmeyer said many customers have spoken in favor of the utility at the public hearings, including those attending the first hearing in Miami-Dade on Tuesday.
"FPL's typical residential customer bills are 25 percent lower than the national average and the lowest of the state's 55 utilities, while our business customers also pay lower-than-average bills," Hofmeyer said in an e-mail. "By continuing to invest in a stronger, more efficient infrastructure, we can keep bills lower for the long term, which, in turn, will help keep Florida affordable for residents and attractive for businesses for years to come."
FPL, the state's largest utility, with 4.5 million customers, said the proposed rate increase would also pay for inflation-related costs, grid improvements and infrastructure improvements, once they come online.
However, the retail federation is disputing that FPL needs to charge for the infrastructure improvements when in past years it didn't.
If you can attend the hearings, you can mail comments to the PSC Clerk, 2540 Shumard Oak Blvd., Tallahassee, FL, 32399-0850. Refer to FPL rate case #120015-EL.
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