Florida electric utilities keep top salaries top secret
Two electric companies won't disclose their executive pay packages, saying it's not the public's business.
BY MARY ELLEN KLAS
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- In their bids to get electric rates increased next year, two of the state's top electric companies said Monday that it's not in the public's interest for them to disclose how much they pay their top executives, according to documents filed with state utility regulators.
Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy argue that disclosing how much they pay their executives in salaries, stock and bonuses is not necessary for the Public Service Commission to determine whether to allow it to raise rates by as much as 31 percent starting next year.
But PSC staff argues otherwise, noting that the salary data is essential to the regulators' ability to ``evaluate the appropriateness of the employee compensation to be included in the rate base.''
FPL wants permission to increase its base rates by $12.40 a month starting Jan. 1, a 31 percent increase in the base rate. FPL estimates that lower fuel costs will offset the rate hike so that customer bills will decline in the short term.
But state regulators say they want to know how much the companies are paying their top employees to determine whether customers are picking up too much of the tab.
Commissioner Nancy Argenziano asked the staff to find out how many employees at the companies get paid more than $165,000 a year. In a letter last week to PSC Chairman Matthew Carter, Argenziano said it was the obligation of regulators to make sure that the ``piggishness'' of Wall Street wasn't reflected in Florida.
``More baldly: they don't care as long as the rate payer picks up the tab,'' she wrote. ``Thus, the PSC is the only policeman on the block.''
The PSC will determine on Aug. 18 whether to force FPL and Progress Energy, as well as the state's other investor-owned utility companies, to report their executive compensation. In its motion filed Monday, FPL attorney Barry Richard argued that if they disclose how much they pay their top executives, including bonuses and benefits, they will hurt employee morale, drive up compensation costs and open the door to competitors poaching employees.
The companies have supplied the PSC with part of its request but they left out names of the employees attached to the salaries and asked the information remain confidential.
Argenziano countered, however, that if the PSC isn't given the names, it can't ensure that the companies aren't compensating employees because of their personal relationships with executives.
Meanwhile on Monday, Florida Public Counsel J.R. Kelly filed a motion that argues that Progress Energy should be stopped from getting its $500 million rate increase and instead be ordered to lower its rates $35 million. He says the St. Petersburg-based electric company has been making hefty profits by accumulating $850 million in excessive depreciation and it should be returned to rate payers.
Kelly made similar arguments in opposition to FPL's rate case. He argued that FPL should decrease its rates by $364 million in 2010 instead of raising them $1.3 billion. The FPL request would mean that base rates for the average customer would increase $12.40 a month starting Jan. 1. FPL estimates lower fuel costs will offset the hike.
The commission will begin hearings on FPL's request on Aug. 24 and rule by mid-November.
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