BILL KACZOR

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) ¿ Public Service Commission staffers recommended the panel approve only about a third of a $1 billion annual rate increase being sought by Florida Power & Light Co.

The staff's base rate recommendation on Wednesday for the state's largest electric utility, a subsidiary of FPL Group Inc., is $357 million.

The case has gotten caught up in politics and been the focal point of accusations some commissioners and staffers have been too cozy with the utilities they regulate.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who is in a heated race for Republican U.S. Senate nomination, has been an outspoken opponent of the rate increase. The five-member panel granted Crist's request to delay decisions on the FPL increase and another being sought by Progress Energy Florida until the second of his two new appointees to the commission takes office in January.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is running in the GOP gubernatorial primary, has intervened in the case, siding with Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represents consumers. Kelly has urged the commission to cut FPL's rates by $1.3 billion.

"They obviously read what our case was and followed significant parts of it," said Earl Poucher, a senior analyst for the public counsel's office. But, he added, "It falls far short of what we asked for."

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