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Energy choices debated
A full house hears pros and cons of city-owned utility service.
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BELLEAIR – Representatives of Progress Energy Florida (PEF) and First Southwest Company spoke before the Town Commission Tuesday evening to debate whether or not the town could provide adequate power to its residents. Both companies provided details and explanations defending their stance with several dozen residents in attendance.

David Phillips, vice president of Progress Energy Florida, reminded the commission and residents about the 75 year relationship that his company has had with Belleair. He said that the utility business is a complex business.

“Progress Energy has four operation centers within 15 miles of Belleair. We have hundreds of employees with access to others in case of challenging situations,” Phillips said. “This is more than dollars and cents.”

Gail Simpson, manager of public policy for the utility company, discussed the financial facts and responsibilities a town would incur if they provided their own source of power. With the use of graphs, she pointed out certain figures that FSC had used incorrectly. Her presentation indicated possible financial loss for a town choosing to use its own utility service.

Phillips then pointed out benefits that Belleair would have if it chose to remain with PEF. This included different projects that the town may undertake in the future that would be cheaper if done by PEF. He said this would result in a savings of 30 percent because the town would be a customer.

Dr. Ron Hill from the University of South Florida also was in attendance. He suggested that more questions needed to be answered before making any decisions. Hill also said that members of his faculty would analyze any future proposals and statistics for the sake of the town.

“This is more about questions than answers,” Hill said.

Jerry Warren, representing First Southwest Company, cited examples of other towns and cities that have chosen to provide their own utility service; including Maitland, Casselberry, and Winter Park. In each of these Florida cities, Warren said, FSC recommended that they provide the service themselves.

Warren’s slide presentation included quotes and comments from a PEF representative indicating it is possible to branch away from PEF. He said that the comments are proof that PEF knows that such a move can work and that they are “inconsistent at best.”

“This is feasible. Two thousand cities have been successful,” Warren said. “This will lower your rates.”

He also said that city-owned service will provide equal or greater reliability because it will be controlled locally, and would be better able to respond to customer concerns.

Commissioners were concerned if the town could survive in case of a catastrophic storm or if a similar event were to occur. Another worry is the possibility of having to return back to PEF if their attempt at having their own services were to fail. Both companies offered answers defending their points of view with past experiences and results. Each representative pointed out exceptions to scenarios, as questions continued.

“This is apples and oranges,” said commissioner Gary Katica. “We need apples and apples.”
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