Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog whose mission is to promote integrity in government and expose public corruption, has just released a scathing report on how utility companies influence the Florida legislature and utility regulators. While it’s not shocking to discover that big business uses big money to influence lawmakers, it does paint a picture of an incestuous club of cronyism that results in harm to the Florida energy consumer.
Full disclosure: my company is currently embroiled in a battle with FPL over interpretation of the “Net Metering Rule,” 25-6.065, F.A.C., Interconnection and Net Metering of Customer-Owned Renewable Generation. I have requested informal assistance from the PSC, which has yielded at least a response and continued dialog with the investor owned utility. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the utility continues to twist the language of the PSC adopted Rule, and ignores both the intent and the explicit qualifications for interconnection of a solar photovoltaic system under the Rule.
With virtually unlimited funds for lobbyists, campaign contributions, and legal counsel, the state’s investor owned utilities wield an incredible amount of power (no pun intended). A handful of non-elected officials are responsible for ensuring we have an affordable, safe, and reliable electricity supply. An appointment to the PSC often results in lucrative opportunities in the private sector, presumably influencing commission members and creating a de facto conflict of interest. Reappointment hinges on following lock-step with the legislators that confirm appointments, who are ultimately influenced heavily by the utility companies. The report outlines a history of this unsavory relationship between regulators, lobbyists, and the legislature, and outlines $18 million of political contributions from Florida’s four largest electric utility corporations.
This report comes on the heels of HB 825 being squashed by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, chairman of the House Finance and Tax Committee. Rep. Workman refused to allow a hearing on the bill which would put an amendment on the November ballot giving Florida’s citizens an opportunity to codify a de facto property tax exemption for commercial solar energy projects. This exemption was in place prior to the 2008 legislative session, and has remained in place in practice, but the confirmed legal exemption is critical to the burgeoning [job creating] solar industry that needs to demonstrate clear energy and tax policy to prospective business clients. The companion Senate Bill SB 917 was unanimously approved by the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
This just shows how a single member of the legislature can have tremendous influence on public policy. Rep. Workman claims he is not a shill for the state’s utility companies, but it’s worth noting in the report that his Republican Party accepted almost $12 million in political contributions from utilities during the period studied in the report. A Florida Division of Elections search of contributors to Rep. Workman’s 2014 Election Campaign shows that Duke Energy, TECO, and FPL or associated Political Action Committees all donated the maximum allowable by law to the campaign. In failing to hear the measure, Rep. Workman cited his belief that the solar industry should not be “propped up” by tax breaks, but contradicted his altruistic vision in the same session by approving and backing a measure for a sales tax holiday on gym memberships. He went on to pat himself on the back for a $400 million tax reduction package.
The full Integrity Florida report is available here.
For more information on Integrity Florida, visit their website.