Office of Public Counsel thinks ECUA needs more oversight

State Senators Broxson, Gainer, Powell and Pizzo asked Florida’s Office of Public Counsel to review two utilities that operate outside the jurisdiction of the Florida Public Service Commission – Jacksonville Electric Authority and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

The report is out.

The Public Counsel believes “some form of outside oversight may be useful or appropriate in providing a layer of protection for customers.” The FPSC has the staff and expertise to do it. The change would require an amendment of the Special Act and the statutes relating to the FPSC’s jurisdiction and powers.

Besides issues with ECUA possibly not following generally accepted accounting principles and not properly categorizing Capital Improvements, the rate structure puts more burden on households than other utilities do.

The Public Counsel found that ECUA is charging its residential customers more that Peoples Water Service that operates in southwest Escambia County:

“This office compared the water rates for a typical (3,000 gallon per month) ECUA residential customer (ignoring taxes and other fees) with the same consumption for a Peoples Water Service Company (“Peoples”), a Class A utility serving over 13,000 customers in areas of southwest Escambia County.

“We observed that, at this level of consumption, the ECUA (mainland) customer bills are 56% higher than those of the FPSC-regulated Peoples.

“It must be pointed out, however, that due to the conservation rate structure the FPSC imposed on Peoples (which requires increasingly more expensive gallonage charges as household usage increases), at 10,000 gallons monthly usage, the ECUA bill is 15% lower than the comparable Peoples’ bill.

“The point here is that it is not clear that the full FPSC regulation would necessarily result in lower rates for ECUA customers. A conservation rate structure for ECUA could materially change the comparison. Even so, to the extent that operational and accounting issues have been theoretically driving costs to an excessive level, it would not be unreasonable to assume that external oversight could place downward pressure on rates and customer bills.”

The full report will be released later this afternoon or tomorrow.