Florida’s Big Power Companies: Influence or Coincidence?

George Cavros | March 31, 2014 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Florida

A report released today by a non-profit watchdog group, Integrity Florida, concludes that hefty political contributions by the state’s biggest power companies and their army of lobbyists have helped advance the interest of the companies’ shareholders to the detriment of customers. The report finds that the power companies have contributed more than $18 million to political campaigns and parties from 2004-2012, and they’ve spent more than $12 million on lobbying in just the last five years. The state’s biggest power company, FPL, has spent the most on lobbying at $4.7 million and has up to 33 lobbyists walking the halls of the Capitol in Tallahassee.

I live and work in Florida and I’m an FPL customer. I also often appear in front of the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) on behalf of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The PSC is charged with regulating the state’s biggest power companies – setting their rates, granting the right to build power plants, and deciding the level of energy efficiency opportunities they will provide to customers. The selection of commissioners is inherently political – they’re appointed by the governor from a pool of applicants that’s provided by the Florida Legislature. I’ve seen the Legislature reshape the PSC.

In 2010, the PSC dared to deny FPL a requested rate hike, and in a separate proceeding, also required FPL and Progress Energy (now Duke) to pursue more meaningful energy efficiency to help customers reduce energy use and save money on bills.

Shortly thereafter, Commissioners Argenziano and Skop were not allowed to reapply for their jobs on the PSC – even though it is customary practice to allow commissioners to do so. Ms. Argenziano has previously highlighted the coziness between the big power companies and the agency charged with regulating them, the PSC. Two more appointees to the PSC, David Klement and Steve Stevens, were not confirmed by the Florida Senate. In other words, four of the five PSC commissioners that voted against the FPL rate hike and the setting of higher conservation goals were gone within a few months.

Since then, the “new” PSC (essentially) threw out the conservation goals set by FPL and Duke, with the apparent support of the governor, by allowing them to continue relatively weak energy efficiency programs established to meet goals set in 2005 – going against even its staff’s recommendation to increase goals for FPL.

Likewise, the same commissioners in 2012 approved a FPL rate increase over the strenuous objection of the Office of Public Council (OPC) – the state office tasked with looking out for residential customers’ best interests. OPC is challenging the PSC-approved deal at the Florida Supreme Court. According to the brief filed by OPC, the purported settlement agreement approved by the PSC will allow FPL to collect more revenues from residential customers than what the company had requested in its original petition.

Coincidence, or big power company influence? You be the judge.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/FLPowerPlay

George Cavros
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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