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Utility aide nominated for seat on PSC

He is Robert Knight of Hernando, the utility regulatory director of the authority that oversees private utilities in Citrus.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 4, 2002


LECANTO -- Robert Knight, adviser to Citrus County's utility regulatory board, has made the short list of nominees for the Public Service Commission.

The five-member PSC regulates electric, gas, telecommunications and water utilities throughout the state with a few exceptions -- such as the local utilities regulated by the Citrus County Water and Wastewater Authority, which Knight advises.

The two open PSC seats this year drew 185 applications, said Constance Ennis, senior administrative assistant for the PSC nominating council. After sifting through the applications and interviewing 16 semifinalists, the council narrowed the pool to eight, including Knight.

Gov. Jeb Bush will pick two appointees before Dec. 1. The four-year terms start Jan. 1.

In its most visible role, the PSC sets utility rates. But the board also enforces other regulations, or in the case of electricity, ponders deregulation.

Knight praised the PSC for its cautious attitude toward deregulation, which he described as one of the most pressing issues facing the board. In a state where a couple of companies dominate the electrical scene, he said, an open market could create the potential for abuse.

"I doubt there's a single person in California that says they benefited from deregulation," Knight said. "It's a real tricky issue that takes expertise."

On the issue of water, Knight said the PSC could encourage smarter use with "appropriate pricing." High-end water users place a burden on the system, requiring larger plants and extra operating costs to meet their water demands, Knight said.

So, he asks, shouldn't those hefty users pay a higher water rate to cover the extra costs they impose on the system?

"I'm not talking penalty fees or excess use fees," Knight said. "Just parity pricing: allocating appropriate charges to those who cause the cost to be incurred."

If he receives the nod from Bush, Knight would have to leave his post in Citrus County, but he said he would still keep his home in Hernando and take an apartment in Tallahassee.

A PSC seat is a full time job that pays $122,948 a year.

"All of the commissioners come from major metropolitan areas. I'd like to bring some balance up there from the perspective of smaller counties," Knight said. "If they only have the perspective of the problems of the big city, that's not a balanced approach."

Knight earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University and his master's in business administration from the Florida Institute of Technology. He spent 20 years at Florida Power, where he managed construction projects, ran 40 fossil-fuel generating plants and helped set the utility's rates.

From 1993 to 1998, he worked as director of business strategies for Progress Energy Corp., a deregulated power company.

In his 21/2 years with Citrus County, Knight advised the local regulatory board on issues ranging from a proposed water rate increase in Beverly Hills to a sewage spill in Sugarmill Woods.

He has also served as acting director of the county's 5,000-customer utility system since mid August, when utility director Lou Badami abruptly resigned.

"I can bring every one of those perspectives into play up there," Knight said. "I would have a much more balanced approach in terms of the needs or wants of the players that may have different objectives."

-- Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at 860-7303 or bhall@sptimes.com.

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