"McLean and Kelliher are among 18 former regulators and government officials the Sun Sentinel has identified who have been hired as FPL employees, consultants or lobbyists."
By Chan Lowe
FPL critics question the utility's motives
By Julie Patel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 23, 2009
As a state-appointed consumer advocate for utility customers, Harold McLean was one of Florida Power & Light's staunchest critics from 2003 to 2007, helping to negotiate a base rate freeze in 2005.
As a former federal utility regulator, Joseph T. Kelliher helped lead an investigation into whether FPL violated standards during a 2008 blackout that left 600,000 homes and businesses dark.
Today, both work for FPL or its affiliates -- McLean as a utility consultant and Kelliher as an executive vice president for regulatory affairs.
Some critics have suggested the hirings allowed utility officials to blunt criticism of the company as it seeks to boost its base rate by $1.3 billion and to gain state and federal approval of new nuclear generators. FPL also has proposed a natural gas line that connects to another proposed pipeline requiring approval from Kelliher's former agency.
Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate with the Florida Public Interest Research Group, criticized the hiring of McLean and Kelliher. "It's definitely disconcerting to see a strong consumer advocate switch sides," he said. "And there's always a chance the next advocate may not be as vigilant."
FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said FPL Group, the utility's parent company, approached Kelliher about the job after he stepped down from the regulatory commission. He said the utility does not attempt to exert undue influence on the regulatory process. He added that federal law bars Kelliher from talking to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency he once headed, on issues of interest to FPL Group.
"He was also hired because FPL Group recognized that federal regulation of [the utility and its alternative energy arm] is growing, especially with carbon regulation," Bubriski said. He added that Kelliher was hired to help work toward building a cleaner and more reliable federal power system.
Bubriski did not respond to questions about what McLean does as an FPL consultant. Kelliher did not return a phone call and e-mail. McLean declined to comment.
McLean and Kelliher are among 18 former regulators and government officials the Sun Sentinel has identified who have been hired as FPL employees, consultants or lobbyists. Bubriski said FPL hires individuals for their expertise.
Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, added: "One would hope they wouldn't waste that much ratepayer money just hiring a guy so the opponents wouldn't have him on their team. But with the millions at stake, Harold McLean's salary might not seem that big."
McLean, an independent attorney who works as a consultant for FPL, led the fight for an FPL base rate freeze in 2005. He also pushed the Public Service Commission to reduce FPL's request for a $650 million storm reserve to $200 million in 2006 after Hurricane Wilma. He worked for the Office of Public Counsel – which represents utility customers for the state – for about 12 years, heading the agency from 2003 to 2007.
Kelliher announced the FERC investigation weeks after the Feb. 26, 2008, blackout. A FERC spokeswoman said the agency has not completed its investigation. But FPL could face fines of up to $1 billion, according to the utility's Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
FPL has blamed the power outage on a human error at a substation in Miami-Dade County. FPL officials said the outage lasted an hour on average for affected customers.
Julie Patel can be reached at email@example.com and 954-356-4667..