MARCO ISLAND — In his letter entitled “Let’s Talk Electric” Bill McMullan attempts to explain several electric issues relating to Marco Island. Once again, there is much disinformation, conspiracy allegations and attempts to undermine fact finding. He uses “ex-councilor” several times creating mystery. No mystery. He is talking about me and I am proud of the work I have done for our city. My 45 years of electric utility experience should qualify me to comment on his statements.
McMullan states I was “upset with LCEC” because they increased the cost of putting electric lines underground from $100,000 per mile to the latest cost of $400,000 per mile. He implies that this is the reason the city decided to study municipalization (takeover of the electric system). That is false.
Putting lines underground, favorably viewed by most Islanders, is a separate issue. Yes, I was disappointed that LCEC had raised the cost. I am also disappointed that LCEC has not cooperated in the city’s efforts to reduce these costs. This will result in termination of the underground program and the loss of the benefits of improved appearance, storm resistance and public safety.
We are not alone in this disappointment with LCEC’s attitude towards putting lines underground and their refusal to recognize any benefits. Unlike neighboring utilities, LCEC refuses to contribute to the cost of this undertaking. Cape Coral and Sanibel have been disappointed over LCEC’s lack of support for putting lines underground.
McMullan implies that LCEC’s costs are reasonable since Cocoa Beach has estimated these costs at up to $800,000 per mile. This is a complete distortion. Marco cannot be compared to Cocoa Beach. First, Marco is only putting the low cost single wire lateral circuits underground while cities like Cocoa Beach plan on burying their entire system — the single wires and the much more expensive three-wire main circuits. In addition, Marco’s system has much of its utility wires, including cable, telephone and low voltage electric already underground. Cocoa Beach must convert these wires, as well. It should be noted that Cocoa Beach is considering taking over the electric system and using the surplus revenues to pay for putting lines underground.
McMullan asserts that the reason for studying the issue of municipalization was because 34 cities own their electric system. Not true. The reason for fact finding was based on the possibility that Marco Island, a highly profitable customer, could be subsidizing the less profitable and more rural areas of LCEC’s massive service territory. In addition, LCEC has raised electric rates by 41 percent in the past four years — three rate increases in the past eight months. Much of this is due to significant infrastructure investment off Marco Island. With revenues down from these other areas, LCEC will continue to increase rates to pay for this investment. Marco would continue to subsidize others. Marco Island spends more on electricity than they do on water, sewer and city property taxes, combined. Electricity makes up about 25 percent of our cost of water; therefore electric increases result in water increases. In this context it appears to be irresponsible for the city not to develop the facts and see if there are any cost benefits to municipalization.
As I have said many times, I do not have a position on municipalization, but believe that facts should be developed. I also believe that, if there are significant savings, the city should try and negotiate rate reductions or other concessions (i.e. contribution to the cost of putting lines underground) to lessen the level of subsidy without taking over the system. McMullan calls this “threatening LCEC.” I call it “trying to get the best deal for Marco ratepayers.”
LCEC knows very well that the city has a legal right to takeover the system — it’s no threat. I am disappointed that LCEC has recently informed the city that they would not provide any information on this issue, even at a fee. This, alone, raises concerns.
McMullan says that since many of the city’s ad hoc committee members have resigned that the city should stop fact-finding and never find out how much we might save. This is distorted logic. What McMullan doesn’t tell you is that he and his supporters resigned without ever attending one meeting. They prefer to sit as observers, refuse to help, or be part of the process. They prefer to disperse disinformation, intimidate and personally attack those who are helping our community.
McMullan says that the Florida Municipal Electric Association stated that LCEC rates were equal or lower than the 34 municipalities that own their electric systems. This is misleading. The Association charts showed municipal rates lower than other utilities and that, built into this rate, was an average of 8 percent of the electric revenue being used to lower property taxes and pay for such essentials as fire and police service.
Many may wonder why McMullan continues his tactics of disinformation, personal attacks and conspiracy theories. The answer is obvious. Mr. McMullan has a desire to “get even” with me and others trying to help our city. He fought against the sewer completion program — and lost. Last year, he supported candidates who used tactics of personal attacks and lawsuits — and lost. He filed several election law complaints against me and others last year — and lost all. He has recently filed ethics complaints against three outstanding members of our community trying to get them removed from the city’s municipalization committee. He will lose this one as well.
It is important in these challenging times to understand the motivation of individuals who spew out this kind of information and use these kind of tactics. Our community soundly rejected the tactics of disinformation, personal attacks and lawsuits last January. Many were hoping that people like McMullan would have gotten the message.