WARNING:

Changes in appearance and in display of formulas, tables, and text may have occurred during translation of this document into an electronic medium. This HTML document may not be an accurate version of the official document and should not be relied on.

For an official paper copy, contact the Florida Public Service Commission at contact@psc.state.fl.us or call (850) 413-6770. There may be a charge for the copy.

 

 

DATE:

November 13, 2014

TO:

Office of Commission Clerk (Stauffer)

FROM:

Office of the General Counsel (Cowdery)

Division of Economics (Draper)

RE:

Docket No. 140142-EM – Petition for declaratory statement or other relief regarding the expiration of the Vero Beach electric service franchise agreement, by the Board of County Commissioners, Indian River County, Florida.

AGENDA:

11/25/14Regular Agenda – Decision on Declaratory Statement – Participation on Issue 2 is based on Commission’s vote on Issue 1; Participation on Issue 4 is based on Commission’s vote on Issue 3

COMMISSIONERS ASSIGNED:

All Commissioners

PREHEARING OFFICER:

Balbis

CRITICAL DATES:

May not be deferred – statutory deadline for issuing final order was waived by petitioner until December 15, 2014

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS:

None

 

 Case Background

On July 21, 2014, pursuant to Section 120.565, Florida Statutes, and Rule 28-105.002, Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County, Florida filed a Petition for Declaratory Statement.  Indian River County breaks down its requested declaratory statement into fourteen separate questions with subparts, as follows:

 

a. Will the Board become a “public utility” as that term is defined in Section 366.02(1), Florida Statutes, if the Board assumes ownership of the Electric Facilities and the Board supplies electric service through the Electric Facilities to those customers currently served by the Electric Facilities?

 

b. Will the Board become an “electric utility” as that term is defined in Section 366.02(2), Florida Statutes, if the Board assumes ownership of the Electric Facilities and the Board supplies electric service through the Electric Facilities to those customers currently served by the Electric Facilities?

 

c. Will the Board become a “public utility” as that term is defined in Section 366.02(1), Florida Statutes, or an “electric utility” as that term is defined in Section 366.02(2), Florida Statutes, if the Board assumes ownership of the Electric Facilities and the Board leases or otherwise conveys the Electric Facilities to FPL or some other provider of electric service (e.g., a public utility, another municipality, or a cooperative) that would supply electric service through the Electric Facilities and other necessary equipment to customers within the geographic area of the Franchise?

 

d. Once the Franchise expires, what will be the legal status of the [Vero Beach]-FPL territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC?  Will the territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC between [Vero Beach] and FPL become invalid in full or in part (at least with respect to the Franchise Area)?

 

e. Once the Franchise expires and if the territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC between [Vero Beach] and FPL become invalid in full or in part (at least with respect to the Franchise Area), with respect to the PSC’s jurisdiction under Chapter 366, Florida Statutes, if the Board chooses to supply electric service in the geographic area described by the Franchise, are there any limitations on the Board’s ability to enter into a territorial agreement with FPL regarding their respective service areas within the county?

 

f. Once the Franchise expires and if the territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC between [Vero Beach] and FPL become invalid in full or in part (at least with respect to the Franchise Area), with respect to the PSC’s jurisdiction under Chapter 366, Florida Statutes, are there any limitations on the Board’s ability to grant FPL an exclusive franchise to supply electric service within the geographic area described by the Franchise and for FPL to serve such customers?

 

g. Once the Franchise expires and if the territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC between [Vero Beach] and FPL remain valid, do the PSC’s orders regarding the territorial agreements and boundaries in any manner limit or otherwise preclude the Board from supplying electric service within the geographic area described by the Franchise?

 

h. Once the Franchise expires and if the territorial agreements and boundaries approved by the PSC between [Vero Beach] and FPL remain valid, do the PSC’s orders regarding the territorial agreements and boundaries in any manner limit or otherwise preclude the Board from granting an exclusive franchise to FPL that would authorize FPL to supply electric service to customers within the geographic area of the Franchise and for FPL to serve such customers?

 

i. Once the Franchise expires, and [Vero Beach] is no longer legally authorized to utilize the County’s rights of way, to the extent the Board takes such actions as to ensure the continued and uninterrupted delivery of electric service to customers in the Franchise Area, by the Board, FPL, or some other supplier, are there any electric reliability or grid coordination issues that the Board must address with respect to the PSC’s jurisdiction under Chapter 366?

 

j. What is the PSC’s jurisdiction with respect to Section 366.04(7), Florida Statutes?  Does [Vero Beach’s] failure to conduct an election under Section 366.04(7), Florida Statutes, have any legal effect on the Franchise or the Board’s duties and responsibilities for continued electric service within the Franchise area?

 

k. Once the Franchise expires, and customers in the Franchise Area are being served by a successor electric service provider, does the Board have any legal obligations to [Vero Beach] or any third parties for any [Vero Beach] contracts for power generation capacity, electricity supply, or other such matters relating to electric service within the Franchise Area?

 

l. If the Board grants [Vero Beach] a temporary extension in the Franchise for the limited purpose and for a limited time in order to seamlessly and transparently transition customers in the Franchise Area to a new electric service provider, are there issues or matters under Chapter 366 or the PSC’s rules and orders that must be addressed by the Board for the transition period?

 

m. What is the PSC’s jurisdiction, if any, with respect to the Electric Facilities once the franchise has expired?  Is there any limitation or other authority under Chapter 366 impacting a successor electric service provider from buying, leasing, or otherwise lawfully acquiring the Electric Facilities in the Franchise Area from [Vero Beach]?

 

n. Does the PSC have the legal authority to invalidate or otherwise supersede the Board’s decision to terminate the Franchise and to designate [Vero Beach] the electric service provider in the Franchise Area?

 

Pursuant to Rule 28-105.0024, F.A.C., a Notice of Declaratory Statement was published in the July 24, 2014, edition of the Florida Administrative Register, informing interested persons of the Petition.  On July 29, 2014, the City of Vero Beach filed a motion to intervene.  On August 12, 2014, the Prehearing Officer granted Vero Beach intervention.[1]

 

On August 14, 2014, the following motions were filed:  Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss and response in opposition to the Petition and a request for oral argument; Florida Power & Light Company’s motion to intervene; Duke Energy Florida, Inc.’s motion to file amicus curiae brief and for oral argument, together with its brief in support of City of Vero Beach; Tampa Electric Company’s motion to file amicus curiae comments including a request to orally address the Commission, together with its comments on the Petition; Orlando Utilities Commission’s motion to intervene and motion to file supplemental pleadings; the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc.’s motion to file amicus curiae memorandum of law, together with its memorandum of law and motion to address the Commission; and the Florida Municipal Electric Association, Inc.’s motion to file amicus curiae memorandum of law. 

 

On August 18, 2014, Indian River County filed an unopposed motion to set filing dates for responses to the Petition and for the County to file a single response to those filings.  The County requested that an order granting its motion be issued as soon as possible in order to remove any confusion as to proper filing times.  On August 19, 2014, the Prehearing Officer granted the motion[2] and set August 22, 2014, as the due date for FMEA, FPL, and OUC to file their substantive responses to the Petition, and set August 29, 2014, as the due date for the County to file its single reply to all substantive responses, including Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss.  Also on August 19, 2014, the Prehearing Officer issued orders granting FMEA’s motion to appear as amicus curiae and to file a memorandum of law;[3] TECO’s motion to appear amicus curiae and to file comments;[4] Duke’s motion to appear as amicus curiae and to file a brief;[5] FECA’s motion to appear as amicus curiae and to file a memorandum of law;[6] OUC’s motion to intervene and to file supplemental pleadings;[7] and FPL’s motion to intervene.[8]

 

On August 22, 2014, FMEA filed its amicus curiae memorandum of law and motion to address the Commission, FPL filed its response to the Petition, and OUC filed its motion to dismiss the Petition.  On August 29, 2014, Indian River County filed its consolidated response and objections to the motions to dismiss and other substantive responses in opposition to the Petition for Declaratory Statement.  In addition, the County requested reconsideration of the portion of Prehearing Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM granting OUC’s motion to intervene.  The County requested oral argument on its consolidated response and on its request for reconsideration.   

 

This recommendation addresses Indian River County’s Petition for Declaratory Statement.  Pursuant to Section 120.565(3), Florida Statutes (F.S.), a final order on a petition for declaratory statement must be issued within 90 days.  By letter filed on September 2, 2014, Indian River County waived the 90-day deadline until December 15, 2014, explaining that waiver would be appropriate in order for the County “to participate in good faith in the Chapter 164 conflict resolution process currently underway involving the Town of Indian River Shores, the City of Vero Beach, and Indian River County.”[9]  The Commission has jurisdiction pursuant to Section 120.565 and Chapter 366, F.S.

 


Discussion of Issues

Issue 1

 Should the Commission grant Indian River County’s request for oral argument on its request for reconsideration of Prehearing Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM granting Orlando Utilities Commission’s motion to intervene?

Recommendation

 No.  The Commission should deny Indian River County’s request for oral argument because oral argument will not aid the Commission in understanding and evaluating the issues to be decided.  (Cowdery)  

Staff Analysis

 Pursuant to Rule 25-22.0022(3), F.A.C., the Commission has sole discretion to grant or deny requests for oral argument.  Requests for oral argument are to be filed by separate pleading and are to state with specificity how the oral argument will aid the Commissioners in understanding and evaluating the issues to be decided.

 

            On August 29, 2014, Indian River County filed a request for oral argument on its request for reconsideration of the Prehearing Order granting Orlando Utilities Commission’s motion to intervene, asking that the Commission grant Indian River County and OUC oral argument of five minutes each.  OUC did not file a response to either request.

 

 Indian River County’s request for oral argument on its request for reconsideration of Prehearing Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM does not provide any reason why oral argument would aid the Commissioners in understanding and evaluating the issues raised.  Rather, Indian River County restates argument from its request for reconsideration that Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM was incorrectly issued prior to the expiration of the 7 day response period authorized by Rules 28-106.205(1)[10] and 28-105.0027(3), F.A.C.  Staff believes that Indian River County’s request for reconsideration fully sets out Indian River County’s argument in this regard and that oral argument would not aid the Commissioners in understanding and evaluating the issues to be decided.  Thus, staff recommends that the Commission should deny Indian River County’s request for oral argument on its request for reconsideration of Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM.  However, if the Commission decides to grant the request for oral argument, staff recommends that the Commission grant Indian River County and OUC oral argument of five minutes each. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issue 2

 Should the Commission grant Indian River County’s request for reconsideration of Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM granting Orlando Utilities Commission’s motion to intervene?

Recommendation

No.  The Commission should deny Indian River County’s request for reconsideration of Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM granting Orlando Utilities Commission’s motion to intervene. (Cowdery)

Staff Analysis:  Indian River County timely filed a request for reconsideration.  The standard of review for a motion for reconsideration is whether the motion identifies a point of fact or law which was overlooked or which the Commission failed to consider in rendering its order.  Diamond Cab Co. v. King, 146 So. 2d 889, 891 (Fla. 1962).  In a motion for reconsideration, it is not appropriate to reargue matters that have already been considered.  Id.  The alleged overlooked fact or law must be such that if it was considered, the Commission would reach a different decision than the decision in the order.  See Order No. PSC-14-0261-FOF-EI, Order Denying Motions for Reconsideration, issued May 23, 2014, in Docket No. 130223-EI, In re:  Petition for approval of optional non-standard meter rider, by FPL. It is not necessary to respond to every argument and fact raised in the motion for reconsideration because “[a]n opinion should never be prepared merely to refute the arguments advanced by the unsuccessful litigant.”  See  Id. at p. 7.

 

Indian River County’s Argument

 

Indian River County asserts that the Commission should reconsider the order granting OUC’s motion to intervene because the order was issued five days after OUC filed its motion to intervene, and the County was planning on filing its objection to OUC’s motion to intervene pursuant to Rule 28-105.0027(3), F.A.C., that allows parties seven days to file a response in opposition to a motion to intervene.  Indian River County states that the Commission should treat its request for reconsideration as if it were an original response to OUC’s motion to intervene, and not as a motion for reconsideration of the order granting intervention. 

 

Indian River County states that OUC’s motion to intervene does not demonstrate how OUC’s substantial interest will be affected by the disposition of the Petition for Declaratory Statement because it does not meet either of the two requirements of Agrico Chem. Co. v. Dep’t of Env. Regulation, 406 So. 2d 478 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981), rev. denied, 415 So. 2d 1359 (Fla. 1982) and 415 So. 2d 1361 (Fla. 1982).   The County alleges that OUC’s motion to intervene does not state what OUC’s injuries would be if the Commission granted the declaratory statement.  The County rejects OUC’s argument that the Commission’s decision on the Petition will materially impact the enforceability of OUC’s contracts with Vero Beach and directly affect OUC’s substantial interests, and states that the fact that OUC may have a business relationship with Vero Beach does not demonstrate injury.  The County argues that the mere reference to OUC in Question k of its Petition[11] does not by itself convey standing, and that Question k does not seek to limit the contractual obligations between Vero Beach and OUC.  Further, the County states that this proceeding is not designed to protect Vero Beach’s future performance under its contracts with OUC or OUC’s interest in its territorial agreements.  Indian River County states that if OUC is complaining that its nonrenewal of its 1987 franchise agreement with Vero Beach (Franchise Agreement) could threaten OUC’s contracts with Vero Beach, then that is a failure of OUC to conduct its due diligence regarding the term of the Franchise Agreement, which is a risk and a problem OUC created and that cannot be solved in this docket.  The County states that it has no objection to allowing OUC to participate as amicus curiae and to treat its response to the Declaratory Statement Petition as an amicus brief. 

 

Staff’s Recommendation

 

On August 14, 2014, the seven respondents/ amici curiae timely filed motions in response to the Petition for Declaratory Statement, which included motions to intervene or to appear as amicus curiae.  Indian River County’s response in opposition to OUC’s motion to intervene and its response to Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss were due by August 21, 2014.[12]  On August 18, the County filed a motion to set filing dates in which it asked for an order setting August 22, 2014, as the deadline for intervenors and amici curiae to file responses to the Petition for Declaratory Statement and setting August 29 as the deadline for the County to file a single response to all substantive filings, including its response to Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss. 

 

Indian River County’s motion to set filing dates specifically states that OUC filed a motion to intervene.  However, the County did not state that it objected to OUC’s motion to intervene or ask to include a response in opposition to OUC’s motion to intervene in its single response to be filed August 29, 2014.  In direct recognition of Indian River County’s request to issue the order as “as soon as possible in order to remove any confusion as to the proper time to file,” the Prehearing Officer on August 19, 2014, granted the motion to set filing dates and the motions to intervene or participate as amicus curiae.  If at the time the County filed its motion to set filing dates it intended to file a response in opposition to OUC’s motion to intervene, it should have addressed that issue in its motion.  Contrary to the County’s argument, the OUC intervention order addressing all filing dates was not issued prematurely, but was issued in direct response to the County’s motion to set filing dates.

 

Indian River County’s motion for reconsideration raises no points that were overlooked or not considered by the Prehearing Officer in granting OUC’s motion to intervene.  The only ground for reconsideration raised by the River County is its allegation that the Order granting OUC intervention was prematurely issued, which as explained above, is not the case.  The County does not meet the standard of review for a request for reconsideration and staff recommends that the Commission deny Indian River County’s request for reconsideration.

 

Moreover, even if Indian River County’s reconsideration arguments are treated as a response in opposition to OUC’s motion to intervene, they do not raise any point of fact or law which would result in OUC’s motion to intervene being denied.  As alleged in OUC’s motion to intervene and as explained in Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM, disposition of the Petition for Declaratory Statement could directly affect OUC’s contracts with Vero Beach and other parties and OUC’s 20-year commitment to provide wholesale electric service to Vero Beach.  As discussed in the Order, OUC meets the Agrico standing requirements.  The Petition asks the Commission to declare that termination of the Franchise Agreement will “completely sever” Vero Beach’s right to serve the Franchise Area and is without any legal consequences to Indian River County as to OUC’s contracts with Vero Beach or third parties.  If the Commission were to issue the County’s requested declaration, the decision would directly and materially impact OUC’s contract rights.  Staff believes that such a direct impact warrants intervention in this docket. 

 

 

 
Issue 3:  Should the Commission grant the motions to address the Commission and allow participation at the Agenda Conference on the issues raised in the Petition?

 

Recommendation

 Yes, the motions to address the Commission should be granted, and all parties and amici curiae should be allowed to participate at the Agenda Conference on the issues raised in the Petition. (Cowdery)

Staff Analysis

 Vero Beach, Indian River County and Duke filed requests for oral argument, and TECO, FECA, and FMEA requested the opportunity to address the Commission.  In their motions, Vero Beach, Duke, TECO, FEMA, and the County state that their participation will assist the Commission in its deliberation of the issues raised in the Petition.  Duke alleges that Commission approval of Indian River County’s assertion that it has the authority to expel its electric service provider due to expiration of a franchise agreement could significantly impact the provision of electric service in Florida and eviscerate the Commission’s jurisdiction over territorial agreements in general.  TECO states that it has a significant interest as a Commission-regulated, investor-owned public utility, in the legal issues raised by the Petition concerning the Commission’s jurisdiction in relation to an electric utility franchise agreement. TECO alleges that given this interest, its input may assist the Commission in disposing of the Petition.  Indian River County states that a full and fair exploration of the issues raised merits the opportunity for the County and others to present their positions to the Commission and to answer any questions the Commissioners may have.  Vero Beach and the County ask that oral argument of 30 minutes per side be allowed. 

 

Pursuant to Rule 25-22.0021(7), F.A.C., it is within the Commission’s discretion to grant the motions to address the Commission on the Petition in order to allow informal participation at the Agenda Conference.  If participation will assist the Commission in its deliberations, the Commission routinely considers the arguments of parties and amici curiae in declaratory statement proceedings.  E.g. Order No. PSC-14-0392-DS-PU, issued July 30, 2014, in Docket No. PSC-14-0392-DS-PU, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement regarding discovery by Office of Public Counsel; Order No. PSC-13-0652-DS-EQ, issued December 11, 2013, in Docket No. 130235-EQ, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement by Southeast Renewable Fuels, LLC; and Order No. PSC-08-0374-DS-TP, issued June 4, 2008, in Docket No. 080089-TP, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement by Intrado Commc’ns, Inc.

 

 Staff believes that participation at the Agenda Conference by the parties and amici curiae may aid the Commission in understanding and evaluating the issues to be decided, thereby facilitating the Commission’s deliberation of the issues raised in the Petition.  Therefore, staff recommends that the motions to address the Commission should be granted, and all parties and amici curiae should be allowed to participate at the Agenda Conference. 

 


Issue 4

 Should the Commission grant Indian River County’s Petition for Declaratory Statement?

Recommendation

 No. The Commission should deny the Petition and decline to issue a declaratory statement because the Petition fails to meet the statutory requirements necessary to obtain a declaratory statement.  Accordingly, the Commission should deny the motions to dismiss filed by Vero Beach and OUC as moot.  The Commission should take administrative notice of the pending circuit court case, Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach, Case No. 312014 CA 000748 (Fla. 19th Cir. in and for Indian River County, Complaint filed July 18, 2014) and of Resolution 2014-069 of the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County because of their relevance to the Commission’s determination of Question j of the Petition.  Consistent with Rule 28-105.003, F.A.C., the Commission should rely on the facts set forth in the Petition without taking a position on the validity of those facts.  Whether the Commission decides to issue or declines to issue a declaratory statement, in whole or in part, the Commission should deny Indian River County’s alternative request for relief.  (Cowdery)

 

Staff Analysis

 

I.          Threshold requirements for issuance of a declaratory statement

Declaratory statements are governed by Section 120.565, F.S., and the Uniform Rules of Procedure in Chapter 28-105, F.A.C.  Section 120.565, F.S., states, in pertinent part, that:

(1) Any substantially affected person may seek a declaratory statement regarding an agency's opinion as to the applicability of a statutory provision, or of any rule or order of the agency, as it applies to the petitioner's particular set of circumstances.

(2) The petition seeking a declaratory statement shall state with particularity the petitioner's set of circumstances and shall specify the statutory provision, rule or order that the petitioner believes may apply to the set of circumstances.

Rule 28-105.001, F.A.C., Purpose and Use of Declaratory Statement, provides that:

[a] declaratory statement is a means for resolving a controversy or answering questions or doubts concerning the applicability of statutory provisions, rules, or orders over which the agency has authority.  A petition for declaratory statement may be used to resolve questions or doubts as to how the statutes, rules, or orders may apply to the petitioner’s particular circumstances.  A declaratory statement is not the appropriate means for determining the conduct of another person.[13]

Rule 28-105.002, F.A.C., requires a petition for declaratory statement to include a description of how the statutory provisions or rule on which a declaratory statement is sought may substantially affect the petitioner in the petitioner’s particular set of circumstances.  Since a declaratory statement procedure is intended to resolve controversies or answer questions of doubts concerning the applicability of statutes, rules, or orders, the validity of the statute, rule, or order is assumed.[14]

A purpose of the declaratory statement procedure is to enable members of the public to definitively resolve ambiguities of law arising in the planning of their future affairs and to enable the public to secure definitive binding advice as to the applicability of agency-enforced law to a particular set of facts.[15]  The courts and the Commission have repeatedly stated that one of the benefits of a declaratory statement is to enable the petitioner to avoid costly administrative litigation by selecting a proper course of action in reliance on the agency’s statement.[16]  Further, “the reasoning employed by the agency in support of the declaratory statement may offer useful guidance to others who are likely to interact with the agency in similar circumstances.”[17]  The Commission has dismissed petitions for declaratory statement that fail to meet the threshold requirements of Section 120.565, F.S.[18] 

A petition for declaratory statement must demonstrate a present, ascertained state of facts or present controversy as to a state of facts and may not allege merely a hypothetical situation[19] or the possibility of a dispute in the future.[20]  Declaratory statements cannot be rendered when the petitioner provides only speculative allegations of circumstances that may someday occur and that might result in certain actions that might impact the petitioner or unspecified third parties.[21]   Because a declaratory statement is intended to address a petitioner’s particular factual circumstances, an agency does not have authority in a declaratory statement proceeding to give a general legal advisory opinion or to announce general policy of far-reaching applicability. [22]

A declaratory statement is not appropriate where the alleged doubt or uncertainty is not about statutory provisions, rules, or orders and where the statement will not resolve the alleged controversy.[23]  Further, where issues raised in a petition for declaratory statement are pending in circuit court litigation, it would be an abuse of the agency’s authority to permit the use of the declaratory statement process as a means for the petitioner to attempt to obtain administrative preemption over legal issues properly pending in court and involving the same parties.[24] 

The agency may rely on the statements of fact set out in the petition without taking any position with regard to the validity of the facts.[25]  In ruling on a petition for declaratory statement, an agency may decide to issue a declaratory statement and answer the question or deny the petition and decline to answer the question.[26] 

II.        Statutory Provisions, Rules and Orders to be Applied to the Facts

A.    Statutory Provisions

 

The Petition states that the statutory provisions that are relevant and applicable to the requested declaratory statement, and that support the issuance of the requested declaratory statement are as listed below.  The County alleges that it needs to understand the applicability of Chapter 366 and the Commission’s rules and orders to the facts and issues presented in the Petition so that the County will be able to properly plan, prepare, and designate a successor electric service provider in the Franchise Area and to undertake such other actions as may be necessary under its power and authority to ensure the availability of safe, reliable, and cost effective electric service in the Franchise Area after the Franchise expires.

 

Section 366.02, F.S., gives the following definitions of “public utility” and “electric utility”:

 

(1)               “Public utility” means every person, corporation, partnership, association, or other legal entity and their lessees, trustees, or receivers supplying electricity or gas (natural, manufactured, or similar gaseous substance) to or for the public within this state; but the term public utility does not include either a cooperative now or hereafter organized and existing under the Rural Electric Cooperative Law of the state; a municipality or any agency thereof; ….

 

(2)        “Electric Utility” means any municipal electric utility, investor-owned electric utility, or rural electric cooperative which owns, maintains, or operates an electric generation, transmission, or distribution system within the state.

 

The Petition identifies Section 366.04(1), F.S., and Sections 366.04(2)(c)-(e) and 366.05(7) and (8), F.S., of the Grid Bill, as supporting the request for declaratory statement.[27] Subsections (1) and (2)(c)-(e) of Section 366.04, F.S., state as follows:

 

(1)               In addition to its existing functions, the commission shall have jurisdiction to regulate and supervise each public utility with respect to its rates and service; assumption by it of liabilities or obligations as guarantor, endorser, or surety; and the issuance and sale of its securities. . .  The jurisdiction conferred upon the commission shall be exclusive and superior to that of all other boards, agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities, towns, villages, or counties, and, in case of conflict therewith, all lawful acts, orders, rules, and regulations of the commission shall in each instance prevail.

 

(2)               In the exercise of its jurisdiction, the Commission shall have power over electric utilities for the following purposes:

. . .

(c)        To require electric power conservation and reliability within a coordinated grid, for operational as well as emergency purposes.

                 

(d)       To approve territorial agreements between and among rural electric cooperatives, municipal electric utilities, and other electric utilities under its jurisdiction.  However, nothing in this chapter shall be construed to alter existing territorial agreements as between the parties to such agreements.

 

(e)        To resolve, upon petition of a utility or on its own motion, any territorial dispute involving service areas between and among rural electric cooperatives, municipal electric utilities, and other electric utilities under its jurisdiction. In resolving territorial disputes, the commission may consider, but not be limited to consideration of, the ability of the utilities to expand services within their own capabilities and the nature of the area involved, including population, the degree of urbanization of the area, its proximity to other urban areas, and the present and reasonably foreseeable future requirements of the area for other utility services.

 

            The Petition also identifies Section 366.05(7) and (8), F.S., of the Grid Bill as supporting the request for declaratory statement.  Those subsections state:

                                                                       

(7)        The [C]ommission shall have the power to require reports from all electric utilities to assure the development of adequate and reliable energy grids.

 

(8)        If the [C]ommission determines that there is probable cause to believe that inadequacies exist with respect to the energy grids developed by the electric utility industry, including inadequacies in fuel diversity or fuel supply reliability, it shall have the power, after  proceedings as  provided by law,  and  after  a finding that mutual benefits will accrue to the electric utilities involved, to require installation or repair of necessary facilities, including generating plants and transmission facilities, with the costs to be distributed in proportion to the benefits received, and to take all necessary steps to ensure compliance.  The   electric utilities involved in any action taken or orders issued pursuant to this subsection shall have full power and authority, notwithstanding any general or special laws to the contrary, to jointly plan, finance, build, operate, or lease generating and transmission facilities and shall be further authorized to exercise the powers granted to corporations in chapter 361. This subsection shall not supersede or control any provision of the Florida Electrical Power Plant Siting Act, ss. 403.501-403.518.

 

The Petition identifies Section 366.04(7)(a)-(e), F.S., as supporting the requested declaratory statement.  These provisions, which relate to requirements for affected municipal electric utilities to conduct a referendum election, state as follows:

 

(a)        As used in this subsection, the term affected municipal electric utility” means a municipality that operates an electric utility that:

 

1.  Serves two cities in the same county;

2.  Is located in a noncharter county;

3.  Has between 30,000 and 35,000 retail electric customers as of  September 30, 2007; and

4.  Does not have a service territory that extends beyond its home county as of September 30, 2007.

 

(b)        Each affected municipal electric utility shall conduct a referendum election of all of its retail electric customers, with each named retail electric customer having one vote, concurrent with the next regularly scheduled general election following the effective date of this act.

 

(c)        The ballot for the referendum election required under paragraph (b) shall contain the following question: Should a separate electric utility authority be created to operate the business of the electric utility in the affected municipal electric utility? The statement shall be followed by the word yes and the word no.”

 

(d)       The provisions of the Election Code relating to notice and conduct of the election shall be followed to the extent practicable. Costs of the referendum election shall be borne by the affected municipal electric utility.

 

(e)      If a majority of the affected municipal electric utility’s retail electric customers vote in favor of creating a separate electric utility authority, the affected municipal electric utility shall, no later than January 15, 2009, provide to each member of the Legislature whose district includes any portion of the electric service territory of the affected municipal electric utility a proposed charter that transfers operations of its electric, water, and sewer utility businesses to a duly-created authority, the governing board of which shall proportionally represent the number of county and city ratepayers of the electric utility. 

 

Staff notes that paragraph (e) was repealed as of July 1, 2014, by  s. 66, ch. 2014-17.

 

B.     Rules

 

The Petition states that Rules 25-6.0439(1) and (2), and 25-6.0441(1), F.A.C., are relevant, applicable, and support the issuance of the requested declaratory statement.  In defining “territorial agreement” and “territorial dispute,” Rule 25-6.0439, F.A.C., states as follows:

 

For the purpose of Rules 25-6.0440, 25-6.0441 and 25-6.0442, F.A.C., the following terms shall have the following meaning:

 

(1)               Territorial agreement” means a written agreement between two  or  more electric utilities which identifies the  geographical areas to be served by each electric utility party to the agreement, the terms and conditions pertaining to implementation of the agreement, and any other terms and conditions pertinent to the agreement;

 

(2)               Territorial dispute” means a disagreement as to which utility has the right and the obligation to serve a particular geographical area.

 

Rule 25-6.0441, F.A.C., states the circumstances under which a territorial dispute may be initiated, as follows:

 

(1)               A territorial dispute proceeding may be initiated by a petition from an electric utility requesting the Commission to resolve the dispute. Additionally the Commission may, on its own motion, identify the existence of a dispute and order the affected parties to participate in a proceeding to resolve it. . . .

 

C.     The Territorial Orders

 

The Petition states that the Commission orders approving the electric service areas and territorial boundaries between Vero Beach and FPL (Territorial Orders) are relevant, applicable, and support the issuance of the requested declaratory statement, as follows: 

 

Order No. 5520, issued August 29, 1972, in Docket No. 72045-EU,  In re Application of Florida Power and Light Company for approval of a territorial agreement with the City of Vero Beach.  The Petition states that on November 1, 1971, Vero Beach and FPL executed their first Territorial Agreement and Contract for Interchange Service,” and that in Order 5520, the Commission found that the approval of this agreement should better enable the two utilities to provide the best possible utility services to the general public at a less cost as the result of the removal of duplicate facilities.” 

 

Order No. 6010, Order Approving Modification of Territorial Agreement,” issued January 18, 1974, in Docket No. 73605-EU, In re Application of Florida Power & Light Company for approval of a modification of territorial agreement and contract for interchange service with the City of Vero Beach, Florida.  The Petition states that this amendment to the 1971 agreement was made in recognition of growth in development and population expansion in the County, Vero Beach and FPL. 

 

            Order No. 10382, Notice of Intent to Approve Territorial Agreement,” issued November 3, 1981, and Order No. 11580, Consummating Order Approving Territorial Agreement,” issued February 2, 1983, in Docket No. 800596-EU, In  re:    Application of FPL and  the City of Vero Beach for  approval  of  an agreement relative to service areas.  The Petition states that on June 11, 1980, FPL and Vero Beach executed and a Territorial Boundary Agreementthat had the effect of transferring approximately 146 accounts and associated facilities from Vero Beach to FPL and 22 accounts and associated facilities from FPL to Vero Beach.  Indian River County states that the Franchise Agreement provides that the unincorporated areas of the County subject to the Franchise Agreement are as defined by the Service Territory Agreement between Vero Beach and FPL that was approved by Order No. 11530.

 

Order No. 18834, Notice of Proposed Agency Action, Order Approving Amendment to Territorial Agreement Between Florida Power & Light Company and the City of Vero Beach,” issued February 9, 1988, in Docket No. 871090-EU,  In re:  Petition of Florida Power & Light Company and the City of Vero Beach for Approval of Amendment of a Territorial Agreement.  The Petition states that on September 18, 1987, Vero Beach and FPL executed an Amendment to Territorial Boundary Agreement” that addressed electric service by Vero Beach to a new subdivision, which at that time had no customers.

 

III.       Indian River County’s Petition for Declaratory Statement

A.    Facts Alleged in the Petition

 

Indian River County states that it does not operate under a county charter and that it has such power of self-government as is provided by general or special law, citing to Florida Constitution Article VIII § 1(f)-(g), and Sections 125.01 and 125.42, F.S. 

 

            The Petition alleges that in 1987, Indian River County, by Resolution, granted, and Vero Beach accepted, an exclusive electric service Franchise Agreement for certain unincorporated geographic areas of the County (Franchise Area).  The Petition alleges that the Franchise Agreement grants Vero Beach (1) the exclusive right to supply electric service to certain parts of the unincorporated areas of the County, and (2) the right to utilize the streets, bridges, alleys, easements, and public places for the placement of its facilities for a period of 30 years.  Pursuant to the Franchise Agreement, Vero Beach has erected poles, fixtures, conduits, wires, meters, cables, and other such electric transmission and distribution facilities for the purpose of supplying electricity within the Franchise (Electric Facilities).  The County alleges that it is not going to renew the Franchise Agreement when it expires on March 4, 2017. 

 

The Petition states that as a Vero Beach electric customer and as the elected representative of all Indian River County citizens, the County is especially mindful of its role in ensuring that its citizens in the Franchise Area have access to high quality, cost-effective electric service:  The health, safety, and welfare of the County’s citizens depend upon this indispensable service, and reliable and affordable electricity is vital to the economic development and well-being of the entire County.  The Petition states that in light of the Franchise Agreement termination, it is the County’s duty and intent to make those necessary arrangements as will ensure the seamless and uninterrupted provision of high quality, reliable, electric service to customers within the Franchise Area. 

 

Indian River County alleges that Vero Beach’s electric service within the Franchise Area has become increasingly more contentious and controversial.  The Petition alleges that the customers in the Franchise Area have no voice in the utility’s operation and management and no redress to any governmental authority because they reside outside the city limits and have no vote in city elections.  The Petition further states that most municipal utility actions are outside the authority of the Public Service Commission, so the utility customers have no regulatory recourse regarding their electric service provider

 

Indian River County states that Vero Beach has refused to comply with the requirements of Section 366.04(7), F.S., by failing to conduct an election or to otherwise create an electric utility authority that would include representation of non-city customers.  The Petition alleges that there is substantial subsidization of Vero Beach’s general government operating budget from non-city Franchise Area customers who receive no city services.  The Petition states that a Vero Beach residential customer can pay approximately a third more for electricity than an FPL customer living across the street

 

The Petition alleges that in 2013, Vero Beach and FPL agreed to the sale of Vero Beach’s electric utility system to FPL, which contemplates FPL serving the Franchise Area and the territories within Vero Beach and the Town of Indian Shores.  The County states that it supports this sale and is prepared to negotiate the necessary franchise agreement and any other required documentation within Indian River Countys authority that would enable FPL to serve customers within the Franchise Area.  At this time, that sale is still pending with several outstanding issues, and there have been some reports suggesting that the transfer may not be completed.   The Petition states that if the proposed transfer from Vero Beach to FPL occurs, the questions asked in the Petition will be unnecessary and Indian River County shall take all actions necessary to facilitate the seamless and uninterrupted transfer of customers to FPL.

 

B.     Description of How the Statutory Provisions, Orders, or Rules Identified May Substantially Affect Indian River County in its Particular Set of Circumstances.

 

            The Petition states that it is requesting a declaration from the Commission “regarding the effect of the expiration of the Franchise on a number of critical matters affecting the substantial interest of the Board,” as to its rights, duties, and responsibilities on its own behalf and on behalf of its citizens in the Franchise Area, for the following reasons:

 

·         In order to properly assess the impact of the Franchise Agreement expiration on “its particular circumstances as a [Vero Beach] electric customer and as the sole authority to grant a franchise to a successor electric supplier.” 

 

·         To obtain a declaration on “the Board’s responsibilities regarding the electric reliability and electric grid within the County in view of the Franchise termination.”

 

·         “[T]o comprehensively understand its role and the associated legal rights, duties, and responsibilities with respect to the provisioning of electric service within the Franchise Area and the potential issues that may be associated with granting a franchise to a successor provider.” 

 

·         To understand what jurisdiction Section 366.04(7), F.S., gives to the Commission and what consequences Vero Beach’s alleged failure to comply with the statute has on Indian River County as a customer, Vero Beach’s “present supplying of electricity,” the effect of the Franchise Agreement expiration, and Indian River County’s planning for a successor electric service provider in the Franchise Area.

 

The Petition maintains that Indian River County has an actual need to understand the applicability of Chapter 366 and the Commission’s rules and orders to the facts and issues presented so that the County will be able to properly plan, prepare, and designate a successor electric service provider in the Franchise Area and take such other actions necessary to ensure the availability of safe, reliable, and cost effective electric service in the Franchise Area after the Franchise expires. 

C.     Legal Argument

 

Indian River County argues that before the Franchise Agreement was executed in 1987, any electric service provided by Vero Beach within the unincorporated areas of the County was ancillary to Vero Beach’s service within its city limits and was subject to general law and common law principles regarding its occupation of public property within the unincorporated areas of the County.  The Petition alleges that the Franchise Agreement for electric service outside Vero Beach’s city limits significantly and materially changed the relationship between the parties and that the Franchise Agreement, as a contract, established and controls the rights, duties, and responsibilities of Vero Beach with respect to its electric service within the unincorporated areas of the County and any contracts relating to that service.    

 

The County argues that even though the Commission has specific jurisdiction to approve territorial agreements that determine the service areas of each utility, Vero Beach’s fundamental legal authority to provide electric service within the unincorporated areas of the County is expressly granted by the Franchise Agreement.  The County alleges that once the Franchise Agreement expires in 2017, Vero Beach will not have any right to construct, maintain, and operate its electric system on the easements and other public places described in the Franchise Agreement.  The County alleges that without this authority, Vero Beach will be required to remove its Electric Facilities unless it can negotiate a transfer to the successor electric service provider.  Further, the Petition alleges that Vero Beach would have no legal authority to use its Electric Facilities to deliver and provide electric service to customers in the Franchise Area in the unincorporated areas of the County.  The County states that once Vero Beach’s Franchise Agreement expires and it has no legal right to serve the Franchise Area, there are no legal consequences to Indian River County or the Franchise Area customers for any contracts Vero Beach may have, including the municipal utility contracts with OUC and Florida Municipal Power Agency, and that these contracts do not provide Vero Beach with any authority to continue service in the Franchise Area after the Franchise expires.

 

Indian River County states that after the Franchise Agreement expires, the territorial agreements and boundaries between Vero Beach and FPL become invalid with respect to the Franchise Area, and the Territorial Orders approved by the Commission are “called into question.”  The Petition states that after the Franchise Agreement expires, the Commission will not have any authority under Chapter 366, F.S., to designate Vero Beach the electric service provider within the Franchise Area.  The County states that the Commission’s authority under Section 366.05, F.S., to authorize certain improvements as to plant and equipment of any public utility remains subject to the utility’s lawful right to occupy streets, rights-of-way, easements, and other property, both public and private.   

 

The Petition states that after the Franchise Agreement expires, there would be no limitation on the County’s authority to acquire Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities and resell service, or to grant a franchise to FPL or any other successor electric provider within the Franchise Area. Indian River County points out that it possesses those powers of self-government as is provided by general or special law and those powers include municipality powers which include providing electric service.  The County argues that to the extent it would offer electric service within the Franchise Area, it would be a municipal electric utility pursuant to its municipal powers, and thus an electric utility within the scope of Section 366.02(2), F.S., and not a public utility under Section 366.02(1), F.S.  The County states that by planning and preparing for a successor electric service provider, including the grant of a new franchise, the County is properly addressing electric reliability and grid coordination issues within its authority.

D.  Indian River County’s Alternative Request for Relief

The County asks that in the alternative, or to the extent necessary, the Commission should initiate such proceedings as are within the Commission’s jurisdiction to address the territorial agreements, service boundaries, and electric grid reliability responsibilities so as to ensure the continued and uninterrupted supply of electric service throughout the County.

IV.       Intervenor and Amici Curiae Responses to the Petition for Declaratory Statement

A.  Statement of Facts

Vero Beach states that it accepts Indian River County’s alleged facts as true but, because it believes that many pertinent facts have been omitted, Vero Beach includes what it states is a more complete exposition of the relevant history.  TECO takes no position on the statement of facts.  OUC cites additional facts concerning its authority and jurisdiction and its contractual relationship with Vero Beach.  FECA’s Memorandum of Law introduces additional facts concerning the Grid Bill.  FMEA introduces additional facts concerning the historical background of electric industry regulation and the Commission’s authority.  FPL raises certain additional facts related to the pending sale of Vero Beach’s utility to FPL.

B.  Motions to Dismiss the Petition

Vero Beach and OUC each filed a motion to dismiss the Petition for Declaratory Statement.  TECO, Duke and OUC support Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss.  FPL states that the Petition should be dismissed or denied to the extent the declarations it seeks run counter to the Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over the Florida grid and territorial matters.  FMEA supports Vero Beach’s motion to dismiss on Questions a-c and j-l (See listing of Questions a–n on pages 1-3 herein).  FECA concludes that the declaratory relief sought by Indian River County cannot be granted and the Petition should be dismissed.  The grounds alleged for dismissal are as follows:

1.   The Petition is based on hypothetical and speculative facts and there is no present controversy or need for the declaratory statement

Vero Beach argues that a party seeking a declaratory statement must show that there is an actual present and practical need for the requested declaratory statement and that the declaration addresses a present controversy.  Vero Beach states that a declaratory statement should not be issued if it amounts to an advisory opinion based on a hypothetical state of facts which have not arisen and are only contingent, uncertain, rest in the future, and form the basis of merely the possibility of legal injury. 

 

Vero Beach maintains that the Petition should be dismissed because there is no present need for the requested declaratory statement because Indian River County concedes that Vero Beach plans to sell its entire electric system to FPL, the County supports the sale, and it is only unidentified, speculative reports suggesting that the sale will not be completed that allegedly give rise to the need for the declaratory statement.  Further, Vero Beach alleges that the County has stated that it is prepared to grant an extension of the Franchise Agreement to Vero Beach to facilitate continued service during the hypothesized transition period, and the expiration of the Franchise Agreement will not occur for more than two and half years, if ever.

Vero Beach argues that Petition’s legal assumption that the Commission’s Territorial Orders will no longer be valid after the Franchise Agreement expires is contrary to Section 120.565, F.S. Vero Beach states that Questions a-i and k-m are similarly based on circumstances that have not occurred or that are purely hypothetical and speculative. 

2.   The Petition improperly seeks to determine the conduct of Vero Beach and other third parties

Vero Beach states that Rule 28-105.001, F.A.C., provides that a declaratory statement is not the appropriate means for determining the conduct of another person. Vero Beach argues that the Petition should be dismissed because it is improperly asking for declarations from the Commission that will clearly and unavoidably determine the conduct and substantial interests of Vero Beach and will significantly and primarily affect the conduct of Vero Beach and FPL.  Vero Beach states that eleven of the fourteen requested declaratory statements specifically reference Vero Beach by name and will directly or indirectly determine Vero Beach’s conduct.  Vero Beach points out as an example that Question d asks the Commission to issue a declaratory statement concerning Commission-approved territorial agreements to which Indian River County is not even a party, Question k asks the Commission to issue a declaration concerning legal obligations to unknown “third parties,” and several questions appear to seek to determine FPL’s conduct.

 

3.   The Petition improperly questions the validity of the Territorial Orders

Vero Beach asks the Commission to dismiss the Petition as a collateral attack on the Commission’s Territorial Orders. Vero Beach points out that the Board asks in Question d whether the Territorial Orders are invalid, or assumes they are invalid, citing to Questions e and f.  Vero Beach states that this is contrary to the Section 120.565, F.S., requirements that a petitioner may only ask for a declaration as to the applicability of statutes, rules, and orders to the petitioner in its particular circumstances and that agency orders must be assumed to be valid.  Vero Beach points out that territorial agreements approved by the Commission have the full legal effect of the Commission’s Territorial Orders because they are part of those Orders. 

 

4.   This declaratory statement proceeding is not the appropriate vehicle for addressing territorial matters where there is no territorial dispute

 

Vero Beach states that the County’s Petition asks the Commission to resolve hypothetical future territorial disputes between the County and Vero Beach (Question g), between Vero Beach and FPL (Questions d-f and h), or between Vero Beach and other potential electric utilities (Questions f, h-j, m, and possibly n).  Vero Beach argues that the hypothetical disputes arise because the County is asking the Commission to declare that it can pick whatever utility it wants to serve in the unincorporated areas of the County where Vero Beach presently serves.  Vero Beach asks the Commission to dismiss the Petition because these results are contrary to Florida statutory and decisional law and are not an appropriate subject for a declaratory statement.

 

Vero Beach argues that there is no territorial dispute to be addressed, which underscores the speculative and hypothetical nature of the County’s requests, as well as the impropriety of the County’s efforts to utilize the declaratory statement process to address what is, at most, a highly speculative future dispute. Vero Beach states that the Commission should reject the County’s attempt to circumvent the Commission’s territorial dispute procedure and associated evidentiary hearing and should accordingly dismiss the Petition.

 

5.   Indian River County improperly assumes as undisputed the threshold legal issues involving the County’s authority to provide electric service and the status of Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities which are in dispute and cannot be resolved in this proceeding

Vero Beach argues that nothing in Section 120.565, F.S., authorizes a petition for declaratory statement to assume legal conclusions.  In the Petition, the County improperly assumes as true threshold legal issues concerning (1) the County’s basic authority to provide electric service and (2) the status of Vero Beach Electric Facilities located in County rights-of-way if the Franchise Agreement expires or terminates. 

 

Vero Beach alleges that Questions a-c, e, and g incorrectly assume that the County is authorized to provide electric service.  Vero Beach argues that nothing in Sections 125.01(1)(k) and (q), Florida Statutes, makes reference to the provision of electrical services by a county, nothing in Chapter 125, F.S., specifically authorizes the County to provide electrical service, and no county in Florida provides such service.  Vero Beach maintains that this threshold legal issue involving the interpretation of provisions of Chapter 125, F.S., should be resolved in a circuit court, not assumed in this declaratory statement proceeding.

 

Vero Beach alleges that the Petition incorrectly assumes that if the Franchise Agreement terminates, the County can require Vero Beach to remove its Electric Facilities from the County’s rights-of-way.  Vero Beach states that the resolution of this legal issue will involve the construction of the Franchise Agreement, the application of preemption doctrine, and the application of various real property principles including the rights of hold-over tenants, the interpretation of easements, the analysis of eminent domain law, and the analysis of potential prescriptive rights.  Vero Beach maintains that such complex real property issues should be resolved by a circuit court and cannot be assumed away in this declaratory statement proceeding. 

 

 

 

6.   Federal Power Act Implications

                  OUC states that the Questions c-e, h, and m, may implicate the Federal Power Act.[28]  OUC explains that the Federal Power Act grants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certain jurisdiction over the transmission of electric energy in interstate commerce and the sale of electric energy at wholesale interstate commerce and over municipal utilities concerning standards for the reliable operation of the bulk power supply system.  OUC argues that if Questions c-e, h, and m are answered in the affirmative, the decision would potentially apply to investor owned utilities and other utilities that own and operate electric distribution and transmission infrastructure subject to franchise agreements.  This would lead to the conclusion that an underlying landowner could seriously impact the integrity of the bulk power supply system simply by choosing to terminate the underlying franchise, easements, or rights-of-way that allow the transmission provider to locate and install the equipment to provide service, all without regard to Commission-approved territorial agreements, regulatory requirements or standards for grid operation.  OUC argues that such conclusions could lead to instability in the operation of the bulk power supply system and could invite FERC to try to expand its jurisdiction. OUC concludes that the far-reaching implications of the requested declarations make the academic exercise of the type requested in the Petition improper in an action for declaratory statement.

7.  Request for Alternative Relief

Vero Beach argues that the Commission should dismiss the County’s request for alternative relief because such a request is legally improper for a petition for declaratory statement.  Vero Beach argues that the County lacks standing to pursue its real interest of lower electric rates through a territorial proceeding, citing to Ameristeel v. Clark, 691 So. 2d 473, 478 (Fla. 1997).  Vero Beach states that the County has not complied with the pleading requirements of Rule 28-106.201, F.A.C., particularly the requirements to identify disputed issues of material fact, to identify the rules and statutes that entitle it to relief, and to explain how the facts alleged relate to the rules and statutes.

C.  The Intervenors’ and Amici Curiae’s Responses in Opposition to the Petition

Vero Beach argues that if the Commission does not grant its motion to dismiss, the Commission should deny the majority of the statements requested in Questions a – n or should issue declarations contrary to the answers requested by Indian River County.  OUC supports Vero Beach’s Response in Opposition to the Petition.  FMEA states that the issues raised are of great concern to its 34 municipally-owned electric utility members, and supports Vero Beach’s arguments as to certain positions and specific Questions, as explained below.  FMEA supports Vero Beach’s position on Questions a-c (concerning whether the County under certain circumstances might be a public utility or electric utility) and j-l (concerning, generally, application of 366.04(7), Indian River County’s liability regarding third party contracts, and the County’s responsibilities during a transmission period following expiration of the Franchise Agreement).  TECO, Duke, and FECA argue that the Petition should be dismissed or denied.  The intervenors’ and amici curiae’s responses in opposition to the Petition, which address Questions a–m on the merits, are as follows:

1.      The Commission has exclusive and superior jurisdiction over Vero Beach’s service territory, and the Franchise Agreement has no effect on the Commission’s jurisdiction or Territorial Orders.

 

Vero Beach argues that the Petition should be denied to the extent the County is requesting declarations that run counter to the Commission’s exclusive and superior jurisdiction to that of Indian River County[29] over “planning, development, and maintenance of a coordinated electric power grid throughout Florida to assure an adequate and reliable source of energy for operational and emergency purposes in Florida and the avoidance of further uneconomic duplication of generation, transmission, and distribution facilities.” [30] Vero Beach asserts that the County’s argument, that after the Franchise Agreement expires, Vero Beach will have no right to serve, is contrary to and would undermine the Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over all territorial matters, planning, development, maintenance of the grid, and uneconomic duplication of facilities.  

            Vero Beach argues that the Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over these matters is grounded not only in the Legislature’s sound policy of avoiding the uneconomic duplication of facilities; it is also grounded in the need for jurisdiction over service areas to prevent antitrust violations.  Order No. PSC-13-0207-PAA-EM, at p. 20, issued May 21, 2013, in Docket No. 120054-EM, In re:  Complaint of Robert D. Reynolds and Julianne C. Reynolds Against Utility Board of the City of Key West, Florida d/b/a Keys Energy Services Regarding Extending Commercial Electrical Transmission Lines to Each Property Owner of no Name Key, Florida.  TECO, FECA, and FMEA agree with Vero Beach that failure of the Commission to actively supervise the territorial decisions of utility service territories would be considered per se Federal antitrust violations under the Sherman Act, 15 USC §12.  Parker v. Brown, 317 U.S. 341, 350 (1942).

 

Vero Beach argues that the Franchise Agreement is of no effect or consequence relative to the Commission’s exclusive and superior jurisdiction over territorial matters and the planning, development and maintenance of a coordinated electric power supply grid in order to prevent the uneconomic duplication of distribution facilities, and therefore, does not affect the validity of the Commission’s Territorial Orders.  Vero Beach maintains that because of the Commission’s exclusive and superior jurisdiction over service territories, the Franchise Agreement was never necessary to Vero Beach’s serving the Franchise Area. 

 

FPL, OUC, Duke, TECO, FECA, and FMEA generally echo or support Vero Beach’s arguments that the Commission has exclusive and superior jurisdiction over Vero Beach’s service territory, and that the Franchise Agreement has no impact on the Commission’s jurisdiction or on the Commission’s Territorial Orders.  FMEA states that the Grid Bill is the heart of the Commission’s regulatory authority over electric service territories in Florida and that if each of Florida’s 410 municipalities and 67 counties could choose their own retail electric provider, or unilaterally evict an existing electric utility provider at the end of a franchise agreement term, there would be no coordinated electric power grid in Florida.  FECA believes that if a local government were allowed to evict a utility from an area it serves and had planned to serve in the future, the Grid Bill’s purposes of prevention of further uneconomic duplication of facilities would be undermined.

Duke argues that any provisions in the Franchise Agreement that purport to authorize Vero Beach to provide electric service within the County are void and that the Petition should be dismissed or denied to the extent that it seeks declarations that run counter to the Commission’s exclusive authority to approve territorial agreements. Duke states that the territorial agreement between FPL and Vero Beach has no expiration date and will continue in effect until the two parties either mutually agree to, or the Commission orders, its termination.  Duke argues that an electric utility has an obligation to provide service to customers within its territorial boundaries until it is relieved by the Commission of that obligation.  Duke states that the Franchise Agreement exists to provide a mechanism for the County to recoup the costs of providing and maintaining the rights-of-way through the collection of franchise fees.  Duke takes no position on Question j regarding the Commission’s jurisdiction under Section 366.04(7), Florida Statutes.

TECO states that once the territorial agreement and amendments were approved by the Commission, they merged with and became a part of the Commission’s Territorial Orders approving them, with any modification or termination of them having to be first made by the Commission.  TECO maintains that the Territorial Orders control, not the Franchise Agreement, and local governments have no authority to “trump” the Commission’s Territorial Orders with franchise agreements. TECO takes no position on the merits of which utility should serve the customers at issue.

2.      Indian River County has no authority to choose an alternative electric service provider in order to get lower rates

 

Vero Beach argues that the Petition is an attempt by Indian River County to usurp the Commission’s exclusive and superior jurisdiction over service territories, planning, and the avoidance of uneconomic duplication of facilities, in an effort to get lower rates.  Vero Beach states that such attempts have been consistently and unwaveringly rejected by this Commission and by the Florida Supreme Court since at least as early as 1968, and the Commission must reach the same result here and deny the County’s requested statements by which it hopes to be able to pick and choose electric suppliers.  Vero Beach, TECO and FMEA, allege that the Petition’s assertion that the County has the authority to designate a successor electric service provider in areas presently served by Vero Beach is contrary to the Florida Supreme Court’s consistent holdings, cited in Territorial Orders 11580 and 5520, that an individual has no organic, economic or political right to service by a particular utility merely because he deems it advantageous to himself.

 

 

 

 

3.      Indian River County’s assertion that non-City residents “have no redress at all to any governmental authority” is false and affords no basis for the Declaratory Statement

 

            Vero Beach alleges that the County’s claim of “no redress” is patently false, affords no basis for the requested declaratory statements, and the Commission should accordingly deny the requested declaratory statements.  In support of this position, Vero Beach cites to Storey v. Mayo, 217 So. 2d 301, 308 (Fla. 1968), where the Florida Supreme Court affirmed a Commission order approving a territorial agreement between the City of Homestead and FPL.  Vero Beach points to the Court’s reasoning that in the event of excessive rates or inadequate service, the customers’ appeal under Florida law is to the courts or the municipal council.  Vero Beach states that the Town of Indian River Shores has filed a lawsuit against Vero Beach raising exactly this claim as the first count of the complaint.[31]

 

4.      Vero Beach provides electric service in its Commission-approved service territory pursuant to the Commission’s express jurisdiction, the Territorial Orders, and additional legal authority.

 

            Vero Beach states that, at a minimum, it has provided service pursuant to the Commission’s Territorial Orders since the issuance of Order No. 5520 in August 1972.  Vero Beach states that Indian River County’s argument that Vero Beach has no legal right to serve absent the County’s authorization pursuant to the Franchise Agreement is false on its face:  If Vero Beach had no right to serve in 1972, the Commission would not have approved its service area.  Vero Beach maintains that it has provided service subject to the Commission’s express statutory jurisdiction over service territories and over the planning, development, and maintenance of a coordinated power supply grid for the avoidance of uneconomic duplication of facilities since the enactment of the Grid Bill in 1974, and pursuant to the Commission’s “implicit authority” before that.  Further, Vero Beach alleges that it provides electric service in the unincorporated areas of the County pursuant to its home rule powers under section 2(b), Article VIII of the Florida Constitution, and pursuant to its powers under Sections 166.021 and 180.02(2), F.S.

 

            Vero Beach states that the territorial agreements approved by the Commission are part of the Commission’s Territorial Orders and thus have the full legal effect and authority of those Orders.  Vero Beach alleges that neither the County nor any other officer or agency of the County ever appeared in any of the Commission’s proceedings pursuant to which the Commission’s Territorial Orders were issued.  Vero Beach states that the County acquiesced in Vero Beach’s serving in the unincorporated areas of the County allocated to Vero Beach, with FPL’s express agreement and support, in at least three separate instances before the Franchise Agreement ever existed, and in one additional territorial amendment since the Franchise Agreement existed.  Vero Beach alleges that this acquiescence may well provide additional, separate legal authority for Vero Beach’s continuing ability to serve using the County’s rights-of-way, but such issues should be addressed by the courts. 

 

            Vero Beach and FECA maintain that no subsection of Chapter 125, F.S., authorizes counties to own or operate electric utility systems, although that chapter does allow counties to purchase or sell water, sewer, and wastewater reuse utilities.  Based upon a basic tenet of statutory construction, the listing of the other utility services excludes electric utility services, and therefore Chapter 125, F.S., does not authorize the County to provide electric service to the public.  

 

5.      The Legislature’s statutory system of governing service areas, electric system planning, and avoiding uneconomic duplication of facilities would be undermined if a county could simply designate electric suppliers at will.

 

Vero Beach alleges that most of Indian River County’s requests, including Questions d-i, m, and n, turn critically on the mistaken belief that the Franchise Agreement is the sole legal authority for Vero Beach to use the County’s rights-of-way and to provide electric service.  Vero Beach states that if the County’s argument is accepted as true, it would follow that any utility would need a franchise agreement with any county or city in which it provides service, and the county or city would have the power to designate any utility of its choosing upon expiration of a franchise. Vero Beach maintains this argument is absurd, as evidenced by the fact that Vero Beach operated in the unincorporated areas of the County for at least 35 years, and probably for close to 60 years, before there was ever a Franchise Agreement and that other Florida utilities serve in many cities and many counties without franchises.      

 

Vero Beach argues that the Commission must deny the requested statements relating to the County’s asserted powers to evict Vero Beach from County rights-of-way.  Vero Beach maintains that if the County’s arguments are accepted, it would undermine the ability of parties to rely on their territorial agreements or on the Commission’s orders approving them, with adverse impacts on whichever parties become disfavored by a county or city for any reason.  Vero Beach asserts that no utility could reasonably make investments if it were uncertain as to the continuation of its legal ability to serve.  Vero Beach states that the Florida Legislature has fully and definitively addressed this potential problem by enacting the Grid Bill, which gives the Commission the exclusive jurisdiction over all such matters, and pursuant to which utilities can plan to serve their Commission-approved service areas in reliance on the statutes and in reliance on the Commission’s territorial orders. 

 

6.      Termination of the Franchise Agreement does not affect Vero Beach’s rights to provide service in its Commission-approved service area or to continue using public rights-of-way or private easements

 

FECA states that the issues before the Commission are of great concern to FECA, its 17 electric cooperative members and to the consumer-members that are served by those electric cooperatives.  FECA states that one issue of extreme significance is whether a utility can rely on Commission-approved territorial agreements and the territorial provisions in Section 366.04, Florida Statutes, to define the service area that it must plan to serve now and in the future, or whether a local government can unilaterally take away a utility’s customers and service area whenever a franchise agreement expires or f there is no franchise agreement. 

 

FECA argues that termination of the Franchise Agreement does not affect Vero Beach’s rights to continue using the County, state, city, or federally-owned rights-of-way or private easements.  FECA states that Section 361.01, F.S., authorizes electric utilities to use eminent domain to obtain easements they require, both on public and private lands, and Vero Beach can obtain the easements it needs to continue to provide service in the Franchise Area.  FECA states that Indian River County’s reliance on Section 337.401(2), F.S., for the proposition that it can deny use of its rights-of-way for no cause is misplaced because that section authorizes local government to prescribe and enforce reasonable rules or regulations for the placement of utility facilities in rights-of-way, but gives no authority for a local government to require a utility to remove its facilities from a right-of-way or completely prohibit a utility from using its rights-of-way under any circumstances without good cause.

 

V.        Indian River County’s consolidated response and objections to the motions to dismiss and responses in opposition to the Petition

            A.        General response to the motions to dismiss and responses to the Petition

Indian River County states that it does not disagree with the basic legal standards cited in Vero Beach’s and OUC’s motions to dismiss, but that the Petition fully complies with Florida law.  The River County states that the Petition is not based upon speculation or hypothetical situations because the Franchise Agreement’s March 5, 2017 expiration is a real fact that presents a present controversy since the issues associated with transitioning to a new electric service provider require years of planning and preparation.  The County maintains that because, currently, a condition precedent to selling Vero Beach’s system to FPL cannot be met, there is a present and real need for the Commission to answer the questions raised in the Petition.

            The County states that none of the questions seek to determine, direct, instruct, or control the conduct of another person.  The County maintains that even though eleven of the fourteen questions reference Vero Beach by name, the questions seek answers for what the County should or should not do or they ask necessary prefatory legal questions.  As an example, the County states that in asking whether the territorial agreements become invalid by operation of law once the Franchise Agreement expires, the County wants to understand the PSC’s jurisdiction, if any, with respect to the Electric Facilities in the Franchise Area once the Franchise Agreement expires and is not seeking to determine, control, or otherwise require any conduct by Vero Beach or FPL. 

In regard to its alternative request for relief, the County states that during the course of this proceeding, the Commission may become aware of facts, laws, or other conditions that may require the Commission’s further investigation, and that it would be irresponsible for the Commission not to take up issues that raise questions.  The County states that it is appropriate for the Petition to suggest that the Commission may want to initiate a separate proceeding to do something within the Commission’s jurisdiction that cannot be done in a declaratory statement proceeding if the Commission determines that the issue merits further exploration.

           

B.        Indian River County respects the PSC’s authority over territorial agreements

Indian River County states that it is not seeking to terminate the territorial agreements between FPL and Vero Beach or otherwise challenge the Commission’s authority in this area.  Instead, the County wants answers to the key issue of the effect of the Franchise Agreement’s expiration on the Territorial Orders vis a vis what the County may or may not do.  The County admits that Questions d, e, and f assume that the Territorial Orders may be invalid for the purpose of fully understanding the consequences of the Franchise Agreement expiration.

 

The County states that although a territorial order may give a utility the right to serve a geographic area, the utility may only serve subject to obtaining a variety of different property rights, authorizations, approvals, or permits from local, state, or federal government, and property owners, as appropriate. In explaining its concept of concurrent authority, the County states that a territorial order does not grant unconditional authority to begin setting poles, stringing wires, burying cable, installing transformers, or placing any other equipment in a subdivision.  The County argues that the Commission and Indian River County exercise concurrent responsibilities with respect to the provision of electric service within the County and the statutes require the Commission and the County to work together in exercising their respective duties.

C.  The Franchise Agreement is required for electric service

Indian River County argues that it is irrelevant for Vero Beach to argue that Vero Beach provided service within the County without a franchise agreement prior to the 1987 Franchise Agreement because prior to the adoption of the 1968 Florida Constitution, non-charter counties such as Indian River County did not have authority to require a franchise as a precondition of service or use of the County’s property.  The County argues that it now has a broad grant of authority under Section 125.01, F.S., that it is only limited if there is a general or special law clearly inconsistent with its delegated powers and that a non-charter county’s power to require franchise agreements from electric utilities has not been found inconsistent with the Commission’s powers. 

 

The County states that a franchise agreement is a bargained for exchange in which a county relinquishes a property right.  The County maintains that it gave Vero Beach the right to access and use County property along with an exclusive right to provide electricity in exchange for which Vero Beach collects and remits a franchise fee to the County.  The County argues that the Florida Supreme Court has recognized that with expiration of the franchise, the benefits of the franchise will also expire. 

 

In support of its position, Indian River County relies upon In re:  Petition to relieve Progress Energy Florida, Inc. of the statutory obligation to provide electrical service to certain customers within Vero Beach of Winter Park, pursuant to Section 364.03 and 366.04, F.S.[32]  The County argues that in that docket, after expiration of the franchise agreement between the City of Winter Park and Progress Energy Florida, Inc. (f/k/a Florida Power Corp.), the Commission did not tell Winter Park that FPC was the authorized electric service provider that would continue to serve customers, that it would be uneconomic for Vero Beach to duplicate FPC’s facilities, that Winter Park could not purchase FPC’s facilities, or that Winter Park could not be the electric utility.  Indian River County states that the Commission “recognized the concurrent authority of Winter Park and accepted the fact that when the franchise expires, if the parties could not negotiate a successor franchise, then the PSC-designated electric utility would no longer be the electric utility for that area.”  The County alleges that subsequent to Florida Power Corp v. City of Winter Park, the Commission continued to work concurrently to give effect to the consequences of the expired franchise and relieved Progress Energy of its obligations to provide electric service in Winter Park.  The County states that while there was no territorial order that needed to be revoked or modified in 2005, an actual territorial agreement between Winter Park and Duke was not approved by the Commission until 2014.

 

            Indian River County’s response to intervenors’ and amici curiae’s arguments that utilities cannot be evicted at the expiration of a Franchise Agreement is that utilities are sophisticated contracting parties that are aware of the agreement’s termination date when executing the contract.  The County argues that eviction at the end of a franchise would interfere with a utility’s underlying power and services contracts “only if you don’t act responsibly,” citing to the Franchise Agreement’s five year advance notification of termination provision.  The County states that franchises have meaning and purpose, and to say that a utility may holdover after a franchise has expired is just as repugnant as the unilaterally imposed franchise fee rejected by the Florida Supreme Court.  The County states that given its decision not to renew the franchise agreement, the Commission should answer the Petition, and together the County and the Commission “can work together to transition electric service to a worthy successor.” 

 

VI.       Staff’s Recommendation

Staff recommends that, in accordance with Rule 28-105.003, F.A.C., the Commission should rely on the facts contained in Indian River County’s Petition without taking a position on the validity of those facts.  If the Commission issues a declaratory statement, the Order will be controlling only as to the facts relied upon and not as to other, different or additional facts.  As the Commission’s conclusion would be limited to the facts described above, any alteration or modification of those facts could materially affect the conclusions reached in any declaratory statement issued. Staff recommends that the Commission take administrative notice of Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach (Attachment A) and of Resolution 2014-069 of the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County (Attachment B) because of their relevance to the Commission’s determination of Question j, as explained in Section F below.  Staff recommends that the Commission deny the Petition for failing to meet the Section 120.565, Florida Statutes, threshold requirements for issuance of a declaratory statement for the reasons explained in Sections A–F below.

 

A.    The Petition improperly assumes that the Territorial Orders are invalid and fails to state with particularity petitioner’s set of present, ascertained or ascertainable circumstances

 

Section 120.565, F.S., requires a petition for declaratory statement to state with particularity the petitioner’s set of circumstances to which the agency will apply its interpretation.  The Petition alleges that the County’s specific set of circumstances to which the law should be applied is its status as a Vero Beach electric customer and its status as sole authority, upon expiration of the Franchise Agreement, to terminate Vero Beach as the electric service provider and to designate by franchise agreement a successor electric utility service provider or to provide the service itself.  Other facts raised in the Petition explain why Indian River County filed its Petition for Declaratory Statement, but are not relevant to an analysis of whether the questions posed meet the requirements of Section 120.565, F.S. 

 

Other than the bare assertion that Indian River County is a Vero Beach electric customer, the Petition gives no facts concerning the County’s status as a Vero Beach electric customer and does not ask for a declaratory statement related to its customer status.  The alleged fact that the County is an electric customer of Vero Beach is therefore irrelevant to the requested declaratory statement, and staff will not address it further.

 

The County’s allegation that it has sole authority upon expiration of the Franchise Agreement to terminate Vero Beach as the electric service provider and to designate by franchise agreement a successor electric utility service provider or to provide service itself, does not constitute a set of facts upon which to apply the law.  Instead, this statement assumes a legal conclusion that the Territorial Orders are inapplicable or invalid as to Indian River County because of its authority to issue franchise agreements.  Based upon this assumption, the Petition then asks 14 questions, with subparts, which are listed on pages 1-3 of this recommendation.  The County states that it is asking for a declaratory statement in order to be fully apprised of its rights, duties, and responsibilities in the event the sale of Vero Beach’s utility to FPL does not close.  Thus, Questions a-n are primarily centered on what actions Indian River County might or might not take relating to its alleged responsibility to pick a new electric service provider for the County after the Franchise Agreement terminates on March 4, 2017.

 

Section 120.565(2), F.S., requires that orders being applied to a petitioner’s specific circumstances be presumed valid.  The Petition does not comply with Section 120.565(2), F.S., because the Petition and Questions a-n incorrectly presume the Territorial Orders will be invalid as to Indian River County upon expiration of the Franchise Agreement.  The Petition then uses this presumption of invalidity as a statement of the County’s factual circumstances.  If the County’s assumption that the Territorial Orders are invalid is eliminated, there is no set of factual circumstances alleged which are applicable to the County and upon which to apply statutory provisions, rules, or orders.

 

The Petition is further premised on a legal assumption that Indian River County has statutory authority to assume ownership of Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities and provide electric service within the Franchise Area (Questions a, b, e, g, i) and that it has legal authority to choose the electric service provider for the Franchise Area other than Vero Beach once the Franchise Agreement expires, notwithstanding the Commission’s Territorial Orders (Questions c, f, h-l, and n).  This assumption is not a present ascertainable fact, but is an untested legal theory, and is therefore not appropriately addressed in a declaratory statement.

 

In addition, Questions a–c, e-i, and k-m are based on alleged circumstances concerning the provision of electric service that are hypothetical, speculative, and do not demonstrate a present, ascertained or ascertainable statement of facts.   The Petition gives multiple scenarios of what general actions Indian River County might or might not take after the Franchise Agreement expires in 2017.  These actions include Indian River County “acquiring” or “assuming ownership” of Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities (Questions a, b, c), and then possibly “leasing or otherwise conveying” those facilities to FPL or “some other provider of electric service (e.g., a public utility, another municipality, or a cooperative)” (Question c, m).  The Petition alleges that the County might supply electric service (Questions a, b, e, g, i) or that FPL or another unnamed third party might become a successor electric service provider to Vero Beach (Question f, h, i, k, l, m).  Furthermore, the sale negotiations between FPL and Vero Beach are still pending, and the Petition admits that if the proposed transfer from Vero Beach to FPL is successfully concluded, “the questions posed herein will be unnecessary.”  This admission and the wide variety of possible future scenarios presented underscore staff’s conclusion that the Petition fails to demonstrate a present, ascertained or ascertainable statement of facts and that Indian River County’s alleged factual circumstances constitute a mere hypothetical situation not proper for a declaratory statement. 

 

B.     The Petition does not provide a description of how Indian River County may be substantially affected under a particular set of facts by the statutory provisions, rules, or orders it identifies

 

The Petition fails to describe how any statutory provisions, rules, or orders may substantially affect Indian River County under its particular set of circumstances, as required by Rule 28-105.002(5), F.A.C.  The two identified rule provisions[33] are not discussed in the Petition and individual Questions and so require no further discussion.   

 

The Petition does not describe how the Territorial Orders may substantially affect Indian River County.  Further, the Petition fails to identify a controversy, questions or doubts concerning the applicability of statutory provisions or orders over which the agency has authority, as required by Rule 28-105.001, F.A.C.  Rather, the County argues that the Franchise Agreement is the underlying legal authority for the Vero Beach - FPL territorial agreements approved by the Commission, which means that once the Franchise Agreement expires, the Territorial Orders are “called into question” and Vero Beach has no right or duty to provide electric service within the Commission-approved territory.  Questions d, e, and f specifically assume the Territorial Orders are invalid.  Questions a-c, i, k-l and n, ask questions which presume the Orders are inapplicable, and therefore invalid, as to Indian River County.  Questions g and h use circular reasoning:  They specifically presume the Territorial Orders remain valid after expiration of the Franchise Agreement, but then ask whether the Orders would preclude the County from replacing Vero Beach as the service provider, which could only occur if the Orders were invalid.  Questions j and m are not specific enough to determine whether the Territorial Orders are presumed valid.  None of these questions describe how the Territorial Orders may substantially affect Indian River County. 

Questions a-c refer to subsections 366.02(1) and (2), F.S., that define electric utility and public utility.  However, the Petition does not describe how these provisions may substantially affect Indian River County’s particular set of circumstances. None of Questions a-n address Sections 366.04(1) or (2), or Sections 366.05(7) or (8), F.S.  Question j references Section 366.04 (7), F.S., but does not ask about application of that statutory provision to the County, instead asking how Vero Beach’s conduct under Section 366.04(7), F.S., might affect the County.

 

C.  The Petition is requesting a general legal advisory opinion

 

It follows from the Petition’s failure to provide a present, ascertained, or ascertainable set of facts (Section A above) and failure to describe how the statutory provisions, rules, or orders may substantially affect Indian River County in its particular circumstances (Section B above), that the Petition is asking for a general legal advisory opinion, contrary to Section 120.565, F.S.  The Petition asks general questions as to the legal status of the Territorial Orders (Question d); asks whether there are any limitations on the County with respect to the PSC’s jurisdiction “under Chapter 366, Florida Statutes” (Questions e and f); asks whether there are any issues for the County to address under unspecified rules or orders, or under Chapter 366, F.S. (Question i, l); fails to specify any rule, statute or order at all (Questions d, k), including a question asking about how the conduct of Vero Beach under Section 366.04(7), F.S., would affect the County’s responsibilities (Question j); asks questions about the Commission’s jurisdiction (Questions m, n); and asks about any limitations on an unspecified “successor electric service provider” “under Chapter 366” (Question m).  These general questions do not meet the requirements of Rule 28-105.002(5), F.A.C., because they fail to describe how a particular statutory provision or order applies to specific factual circumstances of the County and, instead, ask for a general legal advisory opinion.

 

The essential question posed by the Petition is whether a non-charter county has the authority to designate an electric utility service provider, or provide that service itself, within the unincorporated territory of the county, notwithstanding the existence of a Florida Public Service Commission order approving a territorial agreement between a regulated public utility and municipal electric utility for that same territory.  The Commission does not have the authority to issue a legal advisory opinion or to announce general policy of far-reaching applicability in a declaratory statement proceeding. 

D.        The Petition asks for a declaratory statement determining the conduct of third persons

 

Because a declaratory statement is used to determine how an agency will apply the law to the petitioner’s particular circumstances, it is not the appropriate means for determining the conduct of another person. See Rule 28-105.001, F.A.C.  Indian River County’s Petition asks for a declaratory statement on the effect of expiration of the Franchise Agreement on the Commission’s Territorial Orders between Vero Beach and FPL so that the Board may plan how to designate a successor electric provider to Vero Beach.  The County’s position is that once the Franchise Agreement expires, Vero Beach must cease conducting its business in the unincorporated area of the County, and the  County may designate a successor electric provider that might be itself, FPL, or some other provider (Questions a–c, e-l, and n).  The Petition states that the County might, in some unspecified manner, “acquire” or “assume ownership” of Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities (Questions a-c), unless FPL buys the Vero Beach utility, in which case, the County explains, there will be no need for the Commission to answer the Petition.  If the Commission were to issue a declaratory statement on the County’s Petition, it would directly and significantly impact Vero Beach and FPL and the conduct of their businesses in reliance on the Territorial Orders.  Both Vero Beach and FPL ask the Commission to dismiss or deny the County’s Petition for Declaratory Statement.

 

In addition, other individual questions ask for declarations that would directly determine the conduct of third persons.  Question d asks for a declaration concerning the legal status of the territorial agreements between Vero Beach and FPL.  Question k asks for a declaratory statement concerning Indian River County’s legal obligations to Vero Beach or any third parties contracting with Vero Beach relating to electric service, which the Petition explains includes OUC and the Florida Municipal Power Agency.  Question m asks about the Commission’s jurisdiction over Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities, and also asks for a declaration concerning an unidentified third party who the County alleges might provide service within the Franchise Area in the future.  The Commission is without authority to issue a declaratory statement on the Petition because it would determine the conduct of third persons, that is, how Vero Beach, FPL, OUC, FMPA, or other unidentified third parties would need to conduct their businesses. 

 

E.         The Petition asks for declarations that would require an analysis of statutory provisions not within the Commission’s authority and/or analysis of the Florida Constitution.

            Declaratory statements give an agency’s opinion as to the applicability of a statutory provision or of any rule or order of the agency.  Staff recommends that the Commission should not issue a declaratory statement as to Questions a-c, e-l, and n because answering those questions would require application of provisions of law not within the authority of the Commission.

The Petition is premised on a legal assumption that Indian River County has statutory authority to assume ownership of Vero Beach’s Electric Facilities and provide electric service within the Franchise Area (Questions a-c, e, g, i) and that it has legal authority to choose the electric service provider for the Franchise Area other than Vero Beach once the Franchise Agreement expires, notwithstanding the Commission’s Territorial Orders (Questions c, f, h-l, and n).  A complete determination of whether the County meets the statutory definition of “public utility” or “electric utility,” whether it has the authority to provide electric service, or whether it has the authority to replace Vero Beach as the service provider, notwithstanding the Territorial Orders would involve an analysis of the powers of counties through interpretation of Chapter 125, F.S., and Florida Constitution Article VII § 1(f) and (g).  It would not be possible to give a complete and accurate declaration on these questions without addressing the County’s statutory and constitutional powers.  The Commission has no authority over Chapter 125, F.S., or over any provision of the Florida Constitution.[34]  Giving an incomplete declaration that only addresses Chapter 366, F.S., would undermine the purpose of the declaratory statement, which is to aid the petitioner in selecting a course of action in accordance with the proper interpretation and application of the agency’s statute.[35] 

Additionally, the issue raised in Question i of how expiration of the Franchise Agreement affects Vero Beach’s use of the County’s rights-of-way does not raise a matter within the jurisdiction of the Commission, and the Commission therefore has no authority to address this issue in a declaratory statement.  Question k, addressing contracts between Vero Beach and third parties, does not identify a statute, rule, or order of the Commission to be applied to the petitioner’s particular circumstances.  The Commission has no jurisdiction over county franchise agreements and, therefore, no authority to issue a declaratory statement on Question l concerning the County’s possible future actions concerning extension of its Franchise Agreement with Vero Beach.

 

F.         Question j should be denied because the subject matter raised is currently pending in Circuit Court litigation and a Chapter 164, F.S., governmental conflict resolution proceeding in Indian River County

 

By letter of September 2, 2014, Indian River County waived the 90-day statutory deadline for issuing the final order on the Petition until December 15, 2014.  The County stated that waiver would be appropriate in order for the County “to participate in good faith in the Chapter 164 conflict resolution process currently underway involving the Town of Indian River Shores, the City of Vero Beach, and Indian River County.”  The County is participating in the conflict resolution process as a primary conflicting governmental entity pursuant to Resolution No. 2014-069 of the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County, Florida, Joining the Florida Governmental Conflict Resolution Process Initiated by the Town of Indian River Shores with the City of Vero Beach.  Resolution No. 2014-069 states that Indian River County shares the same conflicts with the City of Vero Beach “concerning its conflict over unreasonable electric rates, the City’s refusal to comply with the referendum requirements set forth in Section 366.04(7), F.S., and the removal of the City’s electric facilities from the Town upon expiration of the City’s franchise.” (Attachment B)  The Chapter 164, F.S., conflict resolution process was initiated in relation to Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach, Case No. 312014 CA 000748 (Fla. 19th Cir. in and for Indian River County, Complaint filed July 18, 2014).[36] (Attachment A)

 

Although Indian River County did not mention Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach or the conflict resolution proceeding in its Petition or Response, the Petition does note that even though the continuation of electric service by Vero Beach to the Town of Indian River Shores is not within the scope of the Petition, Indian River County’s “actions could impact the Town as it deals with similar issues.”  Vero Beach alleges that the circuit court case raises the exact claim concerning excessive rates or inadequate service as is raised in Indian River County’s Petition for Declaratory Statement. 

 

Established case law and prior Commission decisions have held that a declaratory statement is not appropriate when another proceeding is pending that addresses the same question or subject matter.[37]  In such cases, it would be an abuse of the agency’s authority to permit the use of the declaratory statement process as a means for the petitioner to attempt to obtain administrative preemption over legal issues involving the same parties.[38]  Question j asks, in part, whether Vero Beach’s failure to conduct an election under Section 366.04(7), F.S., has any legal effect on the Franchise or the Board’s duties and responsibilities for continued electric service within the Franchise area.  Question j is not appropriately addressed in this declaratory statement proceeding because the issue of the City’s refusal to comply with the Section 366.04(7), F.S., referendum requirements is pending in Circuit Court and the Chapter 164, F.S., conflict resolution proceeding.    

 

The County’s Request for Alternative Relief Should be Denied

 

As alternative relief, the County asks that the Commission initiate proceedings to address the territorial agreements, service boundaries, and electric grid reliability responsibilities so as to ensure the continued and uninterrupted supply of electric service throughout the County.  Whether the Commission decides to issue or declines to issue a declaratory statement, in whole or in part, the Commission should deny the County’s alternative request for relief because it fails to supply sufficient, specific information upon which the Commission could determine whether to initiate any proceedings.

 

Conclusion

 

The Commission should deny the Petition and decline to issue a declaratory statement because the Petition fails to meet the statutory requirements necessary to obtain a declaratory statement.  Accordingly, the Commission should deny the motions to dismiss filed by Vero Beach and OUC as moot.  The Commission should take administrative notice of the pending circuit court case, Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach, Case No. 312014 CA 000748 (Fla. 19th Cir. in and for Indian River County, Complaint filed July 18, 2014) (Attachment A) and of Resolution 2014-069 of the Board of County Commissioners of Indian River County (Attachment B) because of their relevance to the Commission’s determination of Question j of the Petition.  Consistent with Rule 28-105.003, F.A.C., the Commission should rely on the facts set forth in the Petition without taking a position on the validity of those facts.  Whether the Commission decides to issue or declines to issue a declaratory statement, in whole or in part, the Commission should deny Indian River County’s alternative request for relief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Issue 5

 Should this docket be closed?

Recommendation

 Yes, the docket should be closed.   (Cowdery)

Staff Analysis

 Whether the Commission grants or denies the Petition, in whole, or in part, a final order must be issued by December 15, 2014, no further action will be necessary, and the docket should be closed.












































































[1] Order No. PSC-14-0409-PCO-EM. 

 

[2] Order No. PSC-14-0425-PCO-EM.

[3] Order No. PSC-14-0419-PCO-EM.

[4] Order No. PSC-14-0420-PCO-EM.

[5] Order No. PSC-14-0421-PCO-EM.

[6] Order No. PSC-14-0422-PCO-EM.  

[7] Order No. PSC-14-0423-PCO-EM.

[8] Order No. PSC-14-0424-PCO-EM.

[9] This resolution process is being held as part of the pending Circuit Court case, Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach, Case No. 312014 CA 000748 (Fla. 19th Cir. in and for Indian River County, Complaint filed July 18, 2014) (Attachment A hereto).

[10] Staff notes that because this is a declaratory statement proceeding, Rule 28-105.0027, F.A.C., is the applicable intervention rule, as opposed to Rule 28-106.205(1), F.A.C., which applies to hearings involving disputed issues of material fact. 

[11] Question k states:  “Once the Franchise expires, and customers in the Franchise Area are being served by a successor electric service provider, does the Board have any legal obligations to [Vero Beach] or any third parties for any [Vero Beach] contracts for power generation capacity, electricity supply, or such other matters relating to electric service within the Franchise Area?”

[12] Rule 28-105.0027(3), F.A.C., allows a party to file a response in opposition to a motion to intervene within seven days of service of the motion. 

[13] Order No. PSC-08-0374-DS-TP, at p. 15, issued June 4, 2008, in Docket No. 080089-TP, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement regarding local exchange telecoms. network emergency 911 service, by Intrado Commc’ns Inc. (petition for declaratory statement denied, in part because it asks to determine the conduct of other entities in addition to petitioner’s own interests, which is prohibited by Rule 28-105.001, F.A.C.).

[14] Retail Grocers Ass’n of Fla. Self Insurers Fund v. Dep’t of Labor & Employment Sec., Div. of Workers’ Comp., 474 So. 2d 379, 382 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985)(citing to Waas, Initiating agency action:  petition for declaratory statement and rulemaking under the Florida Administrative Procedure Act,  55 Fl.a. Bar. J. 43 (1981)).

[15] Dep’t of Bus. and Prof’l Regulation, Div. of Pari-Mutual Wagering v. Inv. Corp. of Palm Beach, 747 So. 2d 374, 382 (Fla. 1999)(quoting Patricia A. Dore, Access to Florida Administrative Proceedings, 13 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. 965, 1052 (1986)).

[16] Id. at 384; Adventist Health Sys./Sunbelt, Inc. v. Agency for Health Care Admin., 955 So. 2d 1173, 1176 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007); Order No. PSC-02-1459-DS-EC, pp. 3-4, issued October 23, 2002, in Docket No. 020829-EC, In re: Petition for declaratory statement concerning urgent need for electrical substation in North Key Largo by Florida Keys Electric Coop. Ass’n Inc., pursuant to Section 366.04, Florida Statutes.

[17] Inv. Corp. of Palm Beach, 747 So. 2d at 385 (quoting Chiles v. Dep’t of State, Div. of Elections, 711 So. 2d 151, 154-55 (Fla. 1st DCA 1998)).

[18] E.g. Order No. PSC-04-0063-FOF-EU, issued Jan. 22, 2004, in Docket No. 031017-EU, In re: Request for Declaratory Statement by Tampa Electric Company Regarding Territorial Dispute with City of Bartow in Polk County, (petition dismissed for lack of an actual, present and practical need, no live controversy, and assertions based on a state of facts which has not arisen); Order No. PSC-0210-FOF-EQ, issued February 15, 1995, in Docket No. 940771-EQ,  In re: Petition for determination that implementation of contractual pricing mechanism for energy payments to qualifying facilities complies with Rule 25-17.0832, F.A.C., by Florida Power Corp. (dismissing petition for declaratory statement asking for interpretation of contract term).

[19] See Santa Rosa County, v. Dep’t of Admin. Hearings, 661 So. 2d 1190, 1193 (Fla. 1995); Sutton v. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 654 So. 2d 1047, 1048-49 (Fla. 5th DCA 1995); Order No. PSC-01-1611-FOF-SU, p. 8, issued August 3, 2001, in Docket No. 010704-SU, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement by St. Johns County (petition for declaratory statement denied for failure to demonstrate a present, ascertained or ascertainable state of facts or a present controversy as to a state of facts that are not merely a hypothetical situation).

[20] Okaloosa Island Leaseholders Ass’n, Inc. v. Okaloosa Island Auth., 308 So. 2d 120, 122 (Fla. 1st DCA 1975).

[21] Intrado, at  21.

[22] Inv. Corp. of Palm Beach, 747 So. 2d at 385; Askew v. Ocala, 348 So. 2d 308, 310 (Fla. 1977) (declaratory relief properly denied where petitioners sought judicial advice different than an Attorney General’s advisory opinion, where there was no present dispute, only a desire by public officials to take certain action in the future and ward off possible consequences); Lennar Homes, Inc. v. Dep’t of Bus. & Prof’l Regulation, Div. of Fla. Land Sales, Condos. & Mobile Homes, 888 So. 2d 50, 51 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004)(reversing the agency’s declaratory statement which announced a general policy of far-reaching applicability); Fla. Dep’t of Ins. v.. Gaur. Trust Life Ins. Co., 812 So. 2d 459, 460-61 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002) (Court held declaratory relief not available to render what amounts to an advisory opinion upon a showing of the mere possibility of legal injury based on hypothetical facts which have not arisen).

[23] Order No. PSC-02-1459-DS-EC, pp. 7-9, issued October 23, 2002, in Docket No. 020829-EC, In re: Petition for declaratory statement concerning urgent need for electrical substation in North Key Largo by Florida Keys Electric Coop. Ass’n Inc., pursuant to Section 366.04, Florida Statutes.

[24] Padilla v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 832 So. 2d 916, 919 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002); Suntide Condo..Ass’n, Inc. v. Div. of Fla. Land Sales, Condos.. and Mobile Homes, 504 So. 2d 1343, 1345 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987); In re: Petition for declaratory statement by Florida Keys Electric Coop. Ass’n, Inc., at pp. 4-6 (noting that even though the legal issue before DOAH was different than the issue presented in the Petition, the subject matter was the same, and therefore not properly decided by the Commission); See also ExxonMobile Oil Corp. v. Dep’t of Agric. & Consumer Servs., 50 So. 3d 755 (Fla. 1st DCA 2010)(stating that an administrative agency must decline to provide a declaratory statement when the statement would address issues currently pending in a judicial proceeding); Intrado, at 15.

[25] Rule 28-105.003, F.A.C.     

[26] Subsection 120.565(3), Florida Statutes, and Rule 28-105.003, F.A.C.

[27] Staff notes that the Grid Bill codified the Commission’s authority to approve and review territorial agreements involving investor-owned utilities and expressly granted the Commission jurisdiction over rural electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities for approving territorial agreements and resolving territorial disputes.  See Richard C. Bellak and Martha Carter Brown, Drawing the Lines:  Statewide Territorial Boundaries for Public Utilities in Florida, 19 Fla. St. L. Rev. 407, 413 (1991).

 

[28] These Questions essentially address Indian River County taking possession of the Electric Facilities, voiding the territorial agreements, supplying electric service, and designating a successor provider.

[29] Section 366.04(1), Florida Statutes

[30] Sections 366.04(1) and (2)(d), and 366.04(5), Florida Statutes.

[31] Town of Indian River Shores v. City of Vero Beach, Case No. 312014 CA 000748 (Fla. 19th Circuit in and for Indian River County, Complaint filed July 18, 2014).       

 

[32] Order No. PSC-05-0453, issued April 28, 2005, in  Docket No. 050117 (Proposed Agency Action Order Relieving Progress Energy Florida, Inc. of the Obligation to Provide Retail Electric Service to Certain Customers Within Vero Beach of Winter Park), and consummating Order No. PSC-05-0568, issued May 23, 2005.

[33] The two rules identified are Rule 25-6.0439(1) and (2), F.A.C., that define the terms territorial agreement and territorial dispute, and Rule 25-6.0441(1), F.A.C., that provides in part that a territorial dispute proceeding may be initiated by petition from an electric utility or on the Commission’s own motion.

[34] Carr v. Old Port Cove Prop. Owners Ass’n, 8 So. 3d 403, 404-405 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009)(a declaratory statement is not the appropriate mechanism to interpret a constitutional provision); PPI, Inc. Fla. Dep’t of Bus. & Prof’l Regulation, Div. of Pari-mutuel Wagering, 917 So. 2d 1020 (Fla 1st DCA 2006)(the agency had the authority to deny the request for declaratory statement because it was not authorized under section 120.565, F.S., to construe a constitutional amendment).

[35] Carr, 8 So. 3d  at 405.

[36] The Town alleges in its Complaint, as Indian River County argues in its Petition, that Vero Beach’s authority to provide utility service in the Town is derived directly from the consent of the Town pursuant to an exclusive franchise agreement that the Town will not renew and that Vero Beach must remove its Electric Facilities from the Town rights-of-way upon expiration of the franchise agreement.

[37] Intrado at p. 15 (petition for declaratory statement denied because, inter alia, the same subject matter or related issues were being addressed in several pending Commission arbitration dockets involving petitioner).

[38] Order No. PSC-02-1459-DS-EC at p. 6, In re:  Petition for declaratory statement by Florida Keys Elec. Coop. Ass’n, Inc., (noting that even though the legal issue before DOAH was different than the issue presented in the Petition, the subject matter was the same, and therefore not properly decided by the Commission);  Suntide Condo. Ass’n Inc. v. Div. of Fla. Land Sales, Condos.  and Mobile Homes, 504 So. 2d 1343, 1345 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987).