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Pay me now, and then pay me later

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published February 15, 2007


I was walking down the street Wednesday when I ran into my electric company. He was smiling. Dollar bills were falling out of his pockets.

"Hey, give me some more of your money right now," said my electric company, holding out his hand.

"I already paid my bill this month," I said.

"Doesn't matter," E.C. beamed. "Under the new rules in Florida, I can start billing you for that new nuclear power plant I am thinking about building."

I thought about that for a minute. "You can bill me for thinking about it?"

"Yep-er-oo-nie," he said. "Planning it, finding a site for it, getting the permits, all kinds of stuff. I just got a new rule passed by the Public Service Commission on Tuesday."

He pulled out a piece of paper and showed me.

I whistled with admiration. "That is a beauty of a rule," I admitted. "How'd you get THAT passed?"

"It weren't nothin'," he said modestly. "Really, the hard part was getting the Legislature to pass a law last spring. The rest was a snap."

"So, you can start billing me just like that?"

"Well, not exactly," E.C. said. "First, I have to get the PSC to agree there's a need for my nuke. But the law makes that pretty much automatic, too."

"How come," I asked, "I have to pay in advance for a power plant that isn't selling me any electricity yet?"

"Welcome to the new world," E.C. said. "Sure, in the old days, me and my investors had to scratch up the money for a plant on the front end.

"But this is better," he continued. "This way you'll get socked in little steps, instead of all at once. So, really, we're doing all this for you."

"Wait a minute," I said. "Does this mean you can spend as much durn-tootin' money along the way as you want, and I have to pay? What if you guys pad the bill?

"We would never do that," he said, as a chunk of unnecessarily high-priced coal fell out of his other pocket. "Whoops, heh, heh, where'd THAT come from?" he asked.

I said I thought there ought to be an outside check.

"But that's going to happen," E.C. reassured me. "We'll have to file paperwork every year to prove that we spent the money prudently."

"Who do you prove that to?"

"The Public Service Commission, of course! So, you see, you're in good hands."

I asked what happened if the plant doesn't get built. Would I get my money back?

"Of course not," he said. "You don't expect US to pay for it if it goes wrong, do you?"

"I have another question," I said.

"Shoot."

"It seems to me that under this new law and this new rule, that all the risk of building a nuke has been transferred from your investors to your customers."

"Correctamundo."

"Well, my friends in the business world keep telling me about the virtue of capitalism, and risk-taking, and how that's what makes corporate America great. But it looks to me like you just got a law passed saying all your expenses are covered by the public, no matter what."

"Right again. What is your question?"

"Well," I said, "don't take this the wrong way, but - doesn't this make you kind of a socialist or something?"

E.C. was offended. "No need for cheap shots," he said.

I gave up. "Look, just send me a bill," I said.

"Oh, don't worry about that," he said.