(1) Except as provided in subsection (4) or subsection (6), a utility may only charge rates and charges that have been approved by the commission.
(2)(a)1. The commission shall, either upon request or upon its own motion, fix rates which are just, reasonable, compensatory, and not unfairly discriminatory. In every such proceeding, the commission shall consider the value and quality of the service and the cost of providing the service, which shall include, but not be limited to, debt interest; the requirements of the utility for working capital; maintenance, depreciation, tax, and operating expenses incurred in the operation of all property used and useful in the public service; and a fair return on the investment of the utility in property used and useful in the public service. However, the commission shall not allow the inclusion of contributions-in-aid-of-construction in the rate base of any utility during a rate proceeding, nor shall the commission impute prospective future contributions-in-aid-of-construction against the utility’s investment in property used and useful in the public service; and accumulated depreciation on such contributions-in-aid-of-construction shall not be used to reduce the rate base, nor shall depreciation on such contributed assets be considered a cost of providing utility service.
2. For purposes of such proceedings, the commission shall consider utility property, including land acquired or facilities constructed or to be constructed within a reasonable time in the future, not to exceed 24 months after the end of the historic base year used to set final rates unless a longer period is approved by the commission, to be used and useful in the public service, if:
a. Such property is needed to serve current customers;
b. Such property is needed to serve customers 5 years after the end of the test year used in the commission’s final order on a rate request as provided in subsection (6) at a growth rate for equivalent residential connections not to exceed 5 percent per year; or
c. Such property is needed to serve customers more than 5 full years after the end of the test year used in the commission’s final order on a rate request as provided in subsection (6) only to the extent that the utility presents clear and convincing evidence to justify such consideration.
Notwithstanding the provisions of this paragraph, the commission shall approve rates for service which allow a utility to recover from customers the full amount of environmental compliance costs. Such rates may not include charges for allowances for funds prudently invested or similar charges. For purposes of this requirement, the term “environmental compliance costs” includes all reasonable expenses and fair return on any prudent investment incurred by a utility in complying with the requirements or conditions contained in any permitting, enforcement, or similar decisions of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, a water management district, or any other governmental entity with similar regulatory jurisdiction.
(b) In establishing initial rates for a utility, the commission may project the financial and operational data as set out in paragraph (a) to a point in time when the utility is expected to be operating at a reasonable level of capacity.
(c) In establishing rates for a utility, upon its own motion or upon the request of a utility, the commission may authorize a utility to create a utility reserve fund for infrastructure repair and replacement for a utility for existing distribution and collection infrastructure that is nearing the end of its useful life or is detrimental to water quality or reliability of service, to be funded by a portion of the rates charged by the utility, by a secured escrow account, or through a letter of credit. The commission shall adopt rules to govern the implementation, management, and use of the fund, including, but not limited to, rules related to expenses for which the fund may be used, segregation of reserve account funds, requirements for a capital improvement plan, and requirements for commission authorization before disbursements are made from the fund.
(3) The commission, in fixing rates, may determine the prudent cost of providing service during the period of time the rates will be in effect following the entry of a final order relating to the rate request of the utility and may use such costs to determine the revenue requirements that will allow the utility to earn a fair rate of return on its rate base.
(4)(a) On or before March 31 of each year, the commission by order shall establish a price increase or decrease index for major categories of operating costs incurred by utilities subject to its jurisdiction reflecting the percentage of increase or decrease in such costs from the most recent 12-month historical data available. The commission by rule shall establish the procedure to be used in determining such indices and a procedure by which a utility, without further action by the commission, or the commission on its own motion, may implement an increase or decrease in its rates based upon the application of the indices to the amount of the major categories of operating costs incurred by the utility during the immediately preceding calendar year, except to the extent of any disallowances or adjustments for those expenses of that utility in its most recent rate proceeding before the commission. The rules shall provide that, upon a finding of good cause, including inadequate service, the commission may order a utility to refrain from implementing a rate increase hereunder unless implemented under a bond or corporate undertaking in the same manner as interim rates may be implemented under s. 367.082. A utility may not use this procedure between the official filing date of the rate proceeding and 1 year thereafter, unless the case is completed or terminated at an earlier date. A utility may not use this procedure to increase any operating cost for which an adjustment has been or could be made under paragraph (b), or to increase its rates by application of a price index other than the most recent price index authorized by the commission at the time of filing. (b) The approved rates of any utility shall be automatically increased or decreased without hearing, upon verified notice to the commission 45 days prior to its implementation of the increase or decrease that the utility’s costs for any specified expense item have changed. 1. The new rates authorized shall reflect, on an amortized or annual basis, as appropriate, the cost of or the amount of change in the cost of the specified expense item. The new rates, however, shall not reflect the costs of any specified expense item already included in a utility’s rates. Specified expense items that are eligible for automatic increase or decrease of a utility’s rates include, but are not limited to:
a. The rates charged by a governmental authority or other water or wastewater utility regulated by the commission which provides utility service to the utility.
b. The rates or fees that the utility is charged for electric power.
c. The amount of ad valorem taxes assessed against the utility’s used and useful property.
d. The fees charged by the Department of Environmental Protection in connection with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program.
e. The regulatory assessment fees imposed upon the utility by the commission.
f. Costs incurred for water quality or wastewater quality testing required by the Department of Environmental Protection.
g. The fees charged for wastewater biosolids disposal.
h. Costs incurred for any tank inspection required by the Department of Environmental Protection or a local governmental authority.
i. Treatment plant operator and water distribution system operator license fees required by the Department of Environmental Protection or a local governmental authority.
j. Water or wastewater operating permit fees charged by the Department of Environmental Protection or a local governmental authority.
k. Consumptive or water use permit fees charged by a water management district.
2. A utility may not use this procedure to increase its rates as a result of an increase in a specific expense item which occurred more than 12 months before the filing by the utility.
3. The commission may establish by rule additional specific expense items that are outside the control of the utility and have been imposed upon the utility by a federal, state, or local law, rule, order, or notice. If the commission establishes such a rule, the commission shall review the rule at least once every 5 years and determine if each expense item should continue to be cause for an automatic increase or decrease and whether additional items should be included.
4. This subsection does not prevent a utility from seeking a change in rates pursuant to subsection (2).
(c) Before implementing a change in rates under this subsection, the utility shall file an affirmation under oath as to the accuracy of the figures and calculations upon which the change in rates is based, stating that the change will not cause the utility to exceed the range of its last authorized rate of return on equity. Whoever makes a false statement in the affirmation required hereunder, which statement he or she does not believe to be true in regard to any material matter, is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. (d) If, within 15 months after the filing of a utility’s annual report required by s. 367.121, the commission finds that the utility exceeded the range of its last authorized rate of return on equity after an adjustment in rates as authorized by this subsection was implemented within the year for which the report was filed or was implemented in the preceding year, the commission may order the utility to refund, with interest, the difference to the ratepayers and adjust rates accordingly. This provision shall not be construed to require a bond or corporate undertaking not otherwise required.
(e) Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, a utility may not adjust its rates under this subsection more than two times in any 12-month period. For the purpose of this paragraph, a combined application or simultaneously filed applications that were filed under the provisions of paragraphs (a) and (b) shall be considered one rate adjustment.
(f) The commission may regularly, not less often than once each year, establish by order a leverage formula or formulae that reasonably reflect the range of returns on common equity for an average water or wastewater utility and which, for purposes of this section, shall be used to calculate the last authorized rate of return on equity for any utility which otherwise would have no established rate of return on equity. In any other proceeding in which an authorized rate of return on equity is to be established, a utility, in lieu of presenting evidence on its rate of return on common equity, may move the commission to adopt the range of rates of return on common equity that has been established under this paragraph.
(5) An application for a rate change must be accompanied by a fee as provided by s. 367.145, except that no fee shall be required for an application for a rate change made pursuant to subsection (4).
(6) The commission may withhold consent to the operation of any rate request or any portion thereof by a vote to that effect within 60 days after the date of filing of the rate request, or within a shorter period established by rule of the commission. The order shall state a reason or statement of good cause for the withholding of consent. The commission shall provide a copy of the order to the utility and all interested persons who have requested notice. Such consent shall not be withheld for a period longer than 8 months following the date of filing. The new rates or all or any portion thereof not consented to may be placed into effect by the utility under a bond, escrow, or corporate undertaking subject to refund at the expiration of such period upon notice to the commission and upon filing the appropriate tariffs. The commission shall determine whether the corporate undertaking may be filed in lieu of the bond or escrow. The utility shall keep accurate, detailed accounts of all amounts received because of such rates becoming effective under bond, escrow, or corporate undertaking subject to refund, specifying by whom and in whose behalf such amounts were paid. In its final order relating to such rate request, the commission shall direct the utility to refund, with interest at a fair rate to be determined by the commission in such manner as it may direct, such portion of the increased rates which are found not to be justified and which are collected during the periods specified. The commission shall provide by rule for the disposition of any funds not refunded, but in no event shall such funds accrue to the benefit of the utility. The commission shall take final action on the docket and enter its final order within 12 months of the official date of filing.
(7) The commission shall determine the reasonableness of rate case expenses and shall disallow all rate case expenses determined to be unreasonable. No rate case expense determined to be unreasonable shall be paid by a consumer. In determining the reasonable level of rate case expense the commission shall consider the extent to which a utility has utilized or failed to utilize the provisions of paragraph (4)(a) or paragraph (4)(b) and such other criteria as it may establish by rule.
(8) The amount of rate case expense that the commission determines a public utility may recover through its rates pursuant to this chapter shall be apportioned for recovery over 4 years unless a longer period can be justified and is in the public interest. At the conclusion of the recovery period, the public utility shall immediately reduce its rates by the amount of the rate case expense previously included in rates.
(9) A utility may not earn a return on the unamortized balance of the rate case expense. Any unamortized balance of rate case expense shall be excluded in calculating the utility’s rate base.
(10) A utility may specifically request the commission to process its petition for rate relief using the agency’s proposed agency action procedure, as prescribed by commission rule. The commission shall enter its vote on the proposed agency action within 5 months of the official filing date. If the commission’s proposed action is protested, the final decision shall be rendered by the commission within 8 months of the date the protest is filed. At the expiration of 5 months following the official filing date, if the commission has not taken action or, if the commission’s action is protested by a party other than the utility, the utility may place its requested rates into effect under bond, escrow, or corporate undertaking subject to refund, upon notice to the commission and upon filing the appropriate tariffs. The utility shall keep accurate records of amounts received as provided by subsection (6).