Monopoly Utilities Orchestrate Solar Opposition Before Sunshine State Supreme Court

Susan Glickman | June 30, 2015 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities

Florida’s utilities, led by Florida Power & Light, are orchestrating a well-coordinated attack on solar power in the Sunshine State. By cashing in on political connections and donations, monopoly utilities have recruited Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, as the headliner in this dubious and misleading act before the Supreme Court.

Merriam-Webster defines a hypocrite as “a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.”

When it comes to protecting consumers on energy issues, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi fits the above definition to a tee. While her job is most certainly to protect consumers, she has missed the boat time and time again, costing consumers hard-earned energy dollars. Now all of a sudden, she claims she has new-found concern for consumer protection when at every opportunity she has sided with powerful, entrenched monopoly utilities over Florida’s citizens. She touts conservative credentials but works to protect government sponsored monopolies.

For example, the Attorney General filed a brief at the Florida Supreme Court arguing that the solar amendment should be removed from the ballot – on the basis that it lacks consumer protections. Bondi’s brief is striking, because in fact, the Amendment will actually protect consumers from rising rates. With the amendment, companies will contract with an individual or a business to sell solar power generated at that site at a guaranteed price.

Forbes contributor William Pentland succinctly explains the struggle in Does the Sunshine State Discriminate Against Solar?  He says, “If it succeeds, the solar amendment will open the door to competition and consumer choice in a state and an industry where those values have been relentlessly and ruthlessly suppressed.”

Because competition and consumer choice have been “relentlessly and ruthlessly suppressed,” Floridians for Solar Choice  – a stunningly diverse group of conservative, business and environmental organizations  – is circulating a petition for the 2016 ballot to remove a government created barrier to solar because Florida is one of only 4 states where the law prohibits a 3rd party – other than your utility – to sell electricity. They filed a brief that clearly details why the petition meets the state constitutional requirements in order to be placed on the ballot in 2016.

The Florida Supreme Court will likely decide in September. It’s no surprise big monopoly utilities with captive customers don’t like this.  As things currently stand, the Public Service Commission (PSC) allows utilities to charge consumers for power they will not get as in the case of Duke Energy’s abandoned nuclear plants. Consumers will see rising costs for plants in the pipeline such as the additional reactors planned by Florida Power & Light (FPL). With this amendment threatening their current structure, utilities have lined up numerous allies to misinform.

As expected, The Florida Chamber of Commerce joined in opposition. They are masters at bald hypocrisy. They claim to advocate “among all branches of government for effective policies that encourage private-sector job creation” but have long ignored the clean energy economic engine that would create private-sector jobs. Two new reports detail how clean energy creates jobs and economic development.

Plainly, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, with 7 utility executives on its board, is invested in protecting the status quo of government-sponsored monopolies.

President and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) Eric Silagy was Chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in 2013-2014. Pamela Rauch, the Vice President of Development and External Affairs for Florida Power & Light Company is also on the Board of Directors for both the Chamber and its Foundation. Joining them is Duke Energy State President Florida Alex Glenn, TECO VP of State Governmental Affairs Chuck Hinson, President and CEO from Gulf Power Stan Connally, Jr. and VP of Customer Sales and Bentina Terry is also on the Foundation Board. Rounding out the group is Mike Bjorklund from the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association.

Also longtime industry ally, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) filed a brief. Along with funding from the Edison Electric Institute, they have a long history of contributions from fossil fuel interests like Exxon Mobil. Hardly unbiased, NBCC is run by husband and wife team, Harry and Kay Alford. They are the only employees listed on tax forms. With more than $500,000 in membership dues, they do not disclose their members.

It’s well known that monopoly utilities and their political contributions rule the roost in the Capitol so it’s no surprise that last week, Pam Bondi and others came to the aid of the utility pals who provide funding.

During the 2014 campaign, Attorney General Bondi raised $3,740,816 and received some direct contributions from power companies and fossil fuel interests such as $3,000 from TECO, $6,000 from Koch Industries and at least $8,000 from FPL employees and their spouses. $1,449,370 came to her from the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF). From 2004 to 2012, almost $17 million went to the state’s political parties where there are no limits.

Power companies gave the RPOF $3,923,832 in the 2014 cycle:

  • TECO $1,463,017
  • FPL $1,122,301 (plus $191,365 in-kind contributions from NextEra)
  • Duke Energy $260,399
  • Progress Energy $600,750 on behalf of Duke
  • Gulf Power $286,000

A number of lawmakers from both political parties have been vocal against the practice of charging in advance for nuclear reactors that may never be built. The Attorney General has been silent.

Where was the Attorney General when:

  • Utility regulators ruled against the more modest staff recommendation and shifted all the risk for drilling operations from utility shareholders to consumers?
  • Republican Senator Jack Latvala singled out Florida Power & Light as the main source of the influence that caused the State House leadership to refuse to require the Office of Public Counsel to be included in rate settlements?

The Attorney General herself – along with Governor Scott and The Cabinet – voted to certify FPL’s two new nuclear reactors south of Miami ignoring that they are only planning for 1 foot of sea level rise and the price of nuclear has more than tripled estimated now to top 20 billion.

Where has the Attorney General been on these energy issues? She’s nowhere in sight.

Pam Bondi ignores facts. She cynically claims there are no barriers to solar in Florida with only a mere 6,600 onsite solar systems within a 9 million-customer base. Solar customers represent just 0.07% of all Florida electric customers today accounting for just 0.1% of power capacity. New Jersey has over 30,000 onsite solar systems with half the population of Florida and a weaker solar resource. That’s 4.5% of that state’s capacity.

What consumers need protection from is the influence of the big monopoly utilities and their wads of cash. But the real question for the Attorney General is, where have you been? And whose side are you really on?




Susan Glickman
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
My Posts