DeSantis to Consider 6 Finalists for PSC Seats

Posted By: Garnie Holmes Legislative/Regulatory,

Florida PSCAll six finalists for two seats on the Florida Public Service Commission were forwarded Tuesday to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will make appointments to the panel of utility regulators.

The finalists include commission members Art Graham and Andrew Fay, who are seeking reappointment. Their current terms expire in January, creating the openings.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council on Tuesday breezed through the introduction and questioning of the six applicants, before voting to put the names on DeSantis’ desk.

The other finalists are Ria Lee Shue Ling, a civil engineer from Loxahatchee; Belinda Little-Wood, who has been involved in the disaster recovery industry for more than 15 years; Steven Petty, a senior marketing coordinator with the infrastructure design firm HNTB Corp; and Anibal Taboas, an executive consultant with Strategic Leadership & Risk Management in Woodridge, Ill.

DeSantis has 30 days to make the two selections for the five-member commission, which regulates utilities such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric Co., along with water, natural-gas and telecommunications companies.

Ten people initially applied for the $135,997-a-year jobs, before the list was pared to six last month.

In introductory remarks, Graham focused on his work on the commission since 2010, when he was first appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Graham said the agency budget has decreased by $2 million over the past 11 years, with the number of workers down by 52, and average customer electric bills across the state have gone up $3.08.

“One of the things you hear all the time is these big numbers in the newspaper about the dollars that the utilities are asking for. I try to convince people all the time, just because utilities are asking for these dollars, does not mean they're getting these dollars,” Graham said.

Graham, who was reappointed twice by former Gov. Rick Scott, also said few commission decisions are appealed or overturned.

“We're following the laws that you guys put before us,” Graham told the nominating council, whose members include Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula; Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton; Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry; Rep. David Silvers, D-Lake Clarke Shores; and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-Saint Johns.

Fay, who served as a deputy to former Attorney General Pam Bondi before getting appointed to the PSC by Scott, touched Tuesday on issues such as renewable energy and the need to brace the electric grid against cybersecurity threats.

“I was talking to the new chair of the Texas commission last week, and it really doesn't matter what regulatory structure a state has, they're still up against this challenge of trying to protect the grid and protect the supply line and software,” Fay said.

Like Graham, Fay pointed to electric rates and noted that no decision of the commission has been overturned since he was appointed.

“I have been on the commission since 2018 and ruled on nearly 500 dockets at this point,” Fay said. “And I'm proud to say not a single one of those dockets has been overturned by an appellate court.”

Taboas, who interviewed for commission seats in 2017 and 2018, said PSC members need to be committed to public service, not careers beholden to politics.

“There are many lessons that should have been learned, like that there's a lack of understanding of the gravity that climate change is a reality. Just look at the water levels, the toxic air, and the service interruptions,” Taboas said. “And second, there are serious issues regarding equity and sustainability. Just as recent examples, California has just learned that it's important to bury power lines. ... Texas recently learned that inspection and maintenance is not an option, and it's a lot more than just an inconvenience.”

Shue Ling noted she was inspired to be a civil engineer after seeing the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and has used her skills to improve people’s quality of life.

“I want to proudly state I have lived up to my engineering oath and that no decision of mine ever resulted in harm or loss of life to humans, animals or property,” Shue Ling said.

Petty, who has applied for commission seats five times, noted that while chief economist at the Tallahassee-based group Florida TaxWatch he participated in a paper that led to the elimination of a sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment.

“The role of commissioners involves heavy-duty due diligence to uncover and carry out the best options available to regulate rates, perform market oversight, monitor safety, reliability, and also for providing the best service,” Petty said.

Little-Wood pointed to a career that has ranged from having an Angus bull champion at the Dixie National Livestock Show to ringing the NASDAQ opening bell before she got into disaster management following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“One of the reasons why I'm very interested in participating on the Public Service Commission is that right now there are so many federal dollars that are being released for alternative energy programs, trying to hopefully shore up our power grids and other initiatives, expanding broadband,” Little-Wood said. “I would like to be on the commission so that I can participate in how that's done.”

Article reposted with permission from The News Service of Florida.