Half of the speakers at Monday night’s Public Service Commission hearing spoke against Florida Power and Light’s rate increase proposal while the other half spoke in favor of their experiences with FPL. Few explicitly said they were happy with potentially paying more for electricity during the nearly four-hour meeting at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

“Whether Florida Power and Light are good corporate citizens is not the issue today,” attendee Brian Behr said. “The rate increase is just more money for them. If you want more profit then stop running ads.”

Florida’s largest power utility and the primary provider of electricity for South Florida wants a 23.7 percent increase in its base rate over the next four years. The PSC used Monday’s hearing to gauge public opinion and will make its decision later this year. Two hearings are scheduled for today in Broward County and a third hearing will occur on Wednesday morning at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

Former Coral Gables mayor Don Slesnick spoke in favor of FPL and was asked to come by the utility. He lauded the utility’s commitment to community service and its quick response to natural disasters.

“If they felt it was important for someone to come and repeat what they have done and how they worked with our city, then why wouldn’t I do that?” Slesnick said. “I came because they were good to the city.”

Some speakers opposed to the rate increase explicitly said that people speaking in favor of FPL at the meeting were paid by the utility, a charge that was vigorously denied.

“Whether they are concerned or whether they had a positive experience we want to hear from them,” FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said.

J.R. Kelly, a lawyer who represents ratepayers in utility cases, repeatedly questioned pro-FPL speakers on their ties to the utility. Some admitted that their nonprofit received money from FPL.

“It irritated me, the public counsel’s kind of demeaning questions,” Slesnick said. “‘Were you asked to come here? Were you asked to come here?’ Well, I happen to know that the first few people that got up to speak obviously had come together to come down here. Other people are asking people to show up and say certain things, it’s not just FPL.”

Slesnick was referring to a group of eight elected officials who all made public comments against the proposed rate increase. The group included Democratic State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Miami-Dade District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava along with other local elected officials, mostly from South Miami-Dade.

“At a time when a lot of families and small businesses are struggling to get by, FPL is asking for 23 percent increase in base rates and a 1 percent increase in guaranteed profits,” Rodriguez said. “This is not the time to be asking for that increase.”

Noticeably absent from the hearing was Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores, who recently requested a rare state Senate field hearing over FPL’s handling of the cooling canals at Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant.

“We’ve been able to return the balance to the canal system itself,” Bubriski said. “We reached a long-term agreement, a 10-year agreement last week, to implement a series of recovery wells that will essentially suck up the hyper salinity from the groundwater near the canals.”

Many of the attendees who spoke against FPL were worried about the environmental impact of Turkey Point. They are concerned that ratepayers will pay more for cleanup efforts as FPL reaps greater profit margins for its shareholders. The proposed rate increase does not include money to clean up the power plant as environmental cleanup is a separate charge that appears on a customer’s bill every month.

As part of its proposal to the commission, FPL is seeking a 1 percent increase on its maximum allowable profits from 11.5 percent to 12.5 percent annually. The utility contends that its reliability and cost is below its competitors in the Southeast, so it deserves more money from ratepayers.

Construction manager Dick Slater spoke in favor of FPL. He was OK with paying more for electricity because of FPL’s commitment to research and development.

“I know we’re going to have more reliable power,” Slater said of the proposed increase. He said he feels the commission will be able to take into consideration the needs of ratepayers and the need for research and development before deciding on the rate increase.

Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner was fiercely opposed to the rate increase, shaking with anger as she spoke to the commission. She was shouted down by PSC Chairman Julie Brown after going over her allotted three minutes to speak.

“I am here to speak against Florida Power and Light and their corporate greed,” Learner said. “We have the fifth highest income inequality in the country.”

Outside of the hearing was a billboard truck sponsored by Florida Strong, a liberal advocacy group. The billboard read “FPL Lobbyist Miguel Diaz de la Portilla gets paid … you get stuck with his new tax.” Portilla is a Republican running against Rodriguez for a state Senate seat.

Portilla said in an email that he is against the proposed rate increase and, “Jose Rodriguez and his shadowy dark money group, Florida Strong, should stop playing politics with our power bill.”

This article was originally published at MiamiHerald.com.