Money in politics typically never leads to good outcomes for utility customers. Case in point: a bill recently signed into law by Governor Scott helps power companies – in particular FPL – build new high-voltage transmission lines by preempting local governments’ ability to apply zoning and environmental protection laws to new power line development.
FPL exerts oversized influence in Tallahassee through significant campaign contributions and use of lobbyists. The Miami Herald, for instance, reported in 2016 that FPL had given $805,000 directly to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee.The Governor and majority of legislators often accommodate the state’s biggest power company.
If you can’t win the game, change the rules of the game
The bill, HB 405, effectively eliminates local control on transmission line siting and stems from a legal battle between FPL and a number of Miami-Dade County local governments. The local governments challenged a 2014 decision by the State Siting Board, comprised of the governor and cabinet, approving miles of transmission line infrastructure to serve FPL’s Turkey Point plant. A portion of the transmission lines were to run through densely populated urban areas and environmentally sensitive lands – the towers would be over 100 feet tall. The governments appealed to the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeals arguing that the Siting Board – and an Administrative Judge’s Recommend Order, had erred in not considering local land regulations that apply to “development” of new transmission lines.
The judge agreed with the local governments finding that the Siting Board incorrectly determined that transmission line corridors are excluded by the definition of “development.” The Court reversed the Final order and remanded the case back to the Siting Board “for further review consistent with local development regulations, comprehensive plans and the applicable environmental regulations.”
What did FPL do? Its attorneys tried to have the Florida Supreme Court hear the case, but the Court denied the request. It seemed like the end of the line for FPL, right? Not so fast.
Rather than working with local governments to comply with the law, FPL set out to change the law. It almost pushed through a bill during the 2017 legislative session that would have effectively quashed the 3rd DCA decision.
Where it failed in 2017, it succeeded this year. The new law now exempts new transmission lines from the definition of “development” by revising the definition of the term to exclude work by electric utility providers on utility infrastructure on certain rights of way or corridors. The new law effectively strips power from local governments to regulate new transmission line infrastructure within their municipal borders.
Leadership needed in Tallahassee
Next time a power company wants to build huge transmission lines in your community, there will likely be very little your government can do to stop it, or mitigate it. Blame FPL’s big-monied influence, Governor Scott, and an over-compliant legislature. Several legislators, to their credit, were not swayed by FPL’s influence and voted against the stripping of local government authority by voting “No” on the bill. The senators that opposed HB 405 were senators Jose Javier Rodriguez, Gary Farmer, Rene Garcia, and Annette Taddeo. Local law preemption by the governor and the legislature continues to be an issue of growing concern in Florida.
This new law stripping local government authority over transmission line development is further proof that bold leadership is needed in Tallahassee to protect the interests of customers and local governments from the heavy hand of manipulative power companies, like FPL.