9 Investigates taxpayer money as PSC leaders meet for conference near Disney

Updated:

Loading
ORLANDO, Fla. —

While you pay more for utilities, the people who decided to raise your rates are wrapping up a three-day stay at an Orlando resort.

9 Investigates is looking into how much of your tax money state leaders used to pay for the conference.

More than 20 members of the Public Service Commission took part in the conference and rubbed elbows with representatives of the same companies they regulate.

Investigative reporter Christopher Heath discovered the event comes less than a month after the PSC voted to pass the cost of two nonworking nuclear plants on to power customers.

The conference was held at the Hilton next to Disney and drew in more than 500 members of the utility industry.

Rooms go for $200 a night, and for many in attendance, taxpayers footed the bill.

From across the county, these are the people who decide what you pay for gas, electric and phone, and Florida's PSC was well represented with all five commissioners, and 16 staff members enjoying their expensive rooms, most paid for through tax dollars, according to Heath.

Utility giants like Duke and AT&T, the same companies regulated by the PSC, also paid to attend, but commissioners told 9 Investigates it was just a chance to meet with fellow regulators from other states.

"During my time here, I haven't talked much to industry folk," said PSC Chairman Ronald Brise.

Brise and his fellow commissioners made the trek from Tallahassee just weeks after approving a multibillion-dollar deal with Duke Energy, a deal that left ratepayers on the hook for the cost of two nonfunctioning nuclear power plants.

"All of us collectively found that this is the best resolution," said Brise.

"Now they're asking to hold on to the money even though they may not build the plant," said Jim Callahan of Stop Duke Energy.

Callahan led a group of Duke ratepayers in a protest against the decision and even asked commissioners to hold a hearing in central Florida before the vote on the plants, but he was told they couldn't make the trip because it wasn't in the budget.

So Callahan finds it odd that just weeks later, the conference near Disney is in the budget.

"They could have just booked an additional day at any public building here in Orlando to hold the hearing," said Callahan.

Part of the travel and registration was covered by federal dollars.

9 Investigates has requested a full list of how much taxpayer money was spent at the conference, but we were told those will not be ready until the end of the month.