Pinellas Co., Florida -- A Pinellas County group of ratepayers are threatening to file a class action lawsuit against Duke Energy Florida.
The Stop Duke Energy Rip-Off group said Duke Energy violated Florida's Advanced Fee Law. The law states Duke Energy must spend the advanced fees taken from customers' bills since 2006 "prudently and reasonably," which the Rip-Off group says they did not.
On Wednesday morning, the group made the lawsuit announcement public in front of the Public Service Commission building in Tallahassee. The PSC held a meeting at 9:30 with Duke Energy to discuss Duke's proposed settlement of $3.2 billion.
The Rip-Off group says the settlement is unfair and does not reimburse ratepayers the money they deserve because they funded the botched nuclear plants in Crystal River and Levy County by paying an advanced fee in their power bills since 2006.
"It's time we stood up, since the Public Service Commission is not doing its job," says Cathy Harrelson.
Harrelson wishes she could have met up with the protesters outside of Tallahassee's Public Service Commission hearing Wednesday morning.
She says it was also unfair of the PSC to hold a hearing about the ratepayers in an area where Duke Energy does not service the ratepayers of Pinellas County.
"How are any of us supposed to drive five hours on a Wednesday to protest Duke Energy?" asks Cathy. "They need to have the meeting here!"
Harrelson has lived in St. Petersburg for 30 years and is tired of what she calls corruption in Duke Energy.
"I think it is outrageous that they are going to push through a $3.2 billion settlement that is going to go to ratepayers without having anybody here," says Dalyn Houser, who was at the protest in Tallahassee and attended the hearing. Houser is a part of the Rip-Off group and he's a member of PIRG, Florida's Public Interest Research Groups, that researches with Rip-Off.
The group does not trust the PSC, who they say tends to side with Duke.
JR Kelly, a lawyer from the Office of Public Counsel, represents the ratepayer but says he agrees that Duke Energy should settle.
"We signed on to it," says Kelly to 10 News. "It's fair and reasonable resolution. An unfortunate situation, though. Honestly, it would be extensive litigation of complex dealing with insurance and construction issues and way you litigate these is a prudence basis and it's a winner take all situation, not something you can split. We believe that this settlement is fair and reasonable resolution of issues, it gives consumers some refunds, $388 million in fuel refunds about $800 million in avoided return on equity profit margin that ratepayers will not have to pay."
Harrelson isn't buying it.
"The public service commission is suppose to be there as our representative. Unfortunately, there is one lawyer up there who is ostensibly representing the entire rate paying public," says Harrelson. "It's ludicrous."