PSC to hear electrification case June 5

By Steve Estes

As Keys Energy Services begins mobilizing contractors, staff and a bevy of lawyers to push ahead with the electrification of No Name Key, all groups concerned have yet to hear what the Florida Public Service Commission has to say about the hotly contested matter.

And, all sides are still waiting for the outcome of an appeal of a circuit court decision that put the matter in front of the PSC in the first place, rather than act on the questions being raised by the utility, Monroe County and opponents to the commercial electrification of the remote island off the north east shore of Big Pine.

The 43 homes on No Name Key are currently powered by solar arrays or generators, or a combination of both. There has never been commercial power to the island. The county approved a prohibition on the extension of public utilities to the island more than a decade ago because of its status as one of 15 areas in the county designated as a federal Coastal Barrier Resource System unit.

And because of another in a long string of laws suits that the proponents of power have brought over recent decades and lost.

The PSC meets June 5 with the No Name issue on its agenda. No Name resident Bob Reynolds asked the PSC to force Keys Energy to provide commercial power that 25 of the 43 residents of the island have paid for, and to force Monroe County to abdicate enforcement of its land use rules and issue building permits despite the prohibition.

Days after that filing, Keys Energy Utility Board voted to approve the line extension agreement with the No Name residents interested in plunking down their share of more than $600,000 for the project, and shortly after that, filed a motion to dismiss Reynolds’ claim because the utility had acquiesced and done what he asked.

When queried about the case, PSC General Counsel Curtis Kiser said that he believed the PSC had jurisdiction to decide on whether the power lines and poles could be run to No Name and that the decision would have to favor the property owners by law. He hedged, however, on claiming that the county’s prohibition against issuing building permits was something that would be decided by the PSC.

“The county’s comprehensive plan and building permit policies are not at court,” said Kiser.

Should the PSC agree with Keys Energy and dismiss the case, pro-power No Name property owners are left exactly where they were more than a decade ago, with a county prohibition in place against issuing building permits and no ruling from a court that invalidates that prohibition, according to Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the appeal filed to Circuit Judge David Audlin’s decision tossing the power issue on No Name Key to the PSC.

The appeals court can uphold Audlin’s decision, which Shillinger says still doesn’t answer the county ‘s questions on the validity of the prohibition, or it can set aside the ruling and send the matter back to Audlin’s court for more work.

The county and opponents to commercial power on No Name Key said in their briefs to the appeals court that Audlin’s ruling was based on an incorrect application of laws, that he used PSC’s absolute right to determine territorial questions between public utilities or municipalities when the matter had nothing to do with the agreement.

Reynolds, who successfully filed the motion to dismiss in Audlin’s court, has again filed a motion to dismiss the appeal in the 3rd DCA.

Shillinger says there is no time frame as yet for the appeals court to rule on either motion.

The environmentalists opposing commercial power to No Name Key have filed a demand motion with Monroe County asking the county to enforce its existing comprehensive plan policies and land development rules with regard to the prohibition of commercial utilities to the island.

No Name Key is completely surrounded by the National Key Deer Refuge and partially by the Great White Heron Refuge. It is home to at least four plants or animals on the federal endangered species list.

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