News Feature | January 21, 2014

Bill Could Give Florida Ratepayers More Power Over Utilities

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

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A bill being considered by the Florida legislature to tighten regulations on water utilities is changing significantly as it moves through the amendment process. 

The legislation was amended last week to give ratepayers more power to take action against utilities.

The legislation would now "allow customers to petition the state's Public Service Commission (PSC) to revoke a utility's state operating certificate," the Florida Current reported

"Under the new provisions, the PSC could cancel a utility company’s certificate of authorization to operate a water or sewer system if 65 percent of its customers sign a petition. If the utility cannot prove it’s operating in the public interest, the PSC could place the system in receivership until it’s sold to another operator,"  according to the Tampa Tribune.

In a hearing for a key Senate panel this week, customers sounded off about water quality in their area. 

"Everyone has heard what the problems are," Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, a supporter of the bill, said in the Current. "I think for too long we have had the private utilities in a posture that our consumers were not looked after."

The legislation would slap strict new rules on water and wastewater utilities. It gives the state the "authority to determine whether a utility's drinking water meets secondary water treatment standards and to deny all or part of a rate increase request if it does not."

Small water utilities expressed concerns about the measure. Representatives of a private water utility and the Florida Rural Water Association "said the legislation could require expensive treatment for small utilities, some with as few as 100 customers," the report said. 

The legislation would also require utilities to invest more in communication with ratepayers. 

It would mandate that the utility "meet with its customers to discuss the costs and benefits of plausible solutions if the commission finds that the utility has failed to meet certain water or wastewater quality standards," according to a bill summary.  

“I wanted to file a bill to put the private utilities on notice,” Sen. Simpson said in the Tribune. “I want this to become law — it’s important that it does.”

Originally, the legislation looked a lot different. Water Online reported on a previous draft of the bill. 

"An earlier version of the bill would have made it illegal for private companies to charge higher water and sewer rates than government-owned utilities in the same county," the Tribune said. 

“I really liked the language in the earlier version, but considering what we’re asking the PSC to do, we wanted to be sure it’s something that is legal and can be enforced,” Simpson said in the Tribune.  

For more on how lawmakers influence the water industry, check out Water Online's Regulations And Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Florida Bay, Florida," © 2010, eutrophication&hypoxia, used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/3

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