Florida report on energy company influence over legislature and Public Service Commission

In Florida (and elsewhere), utility companies certainly wield a lot of power. This shows up as rate increases, hidden fees, fees for nuclear power plants that don’t exist, municipal utility buy-up controversies, Smart Meter and Smart Grid problems (including time-of-use rates) which are ignored, and new power plants pushed when capacity is not needed. At a hearing this week, they’ll lobby for most energy conservation goals to be terminated.

All of this is to the industry’s advantage. None of it is for the consumer.

Integrity Florida put out the report “Power Play: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations” in March 2014 [here and http://www.integrityflorida.org/powerplay/]

“…between 2004 and 2012, the companies infused more than $18 million into legislative and state political campaigns and spent more than $12 million over the past five years hiring lobbyists. The report also detailed a pattern of favoritism toward utilities by regulators at the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Legislature.

The report contends the investments of power companies have paid legislative dividends.

For example, Progress Energy, now known as Duke Energy, charged its customers more than $1.5 billion for the now-canceled Levy County nuclear power plant and, even though it will never be built, the law allows Duke Energy to keep the money, including $150 million in profit.

The cost to the company, the report found: an estimated $300,000 to hire 15 lobbyists in 2006 to push for the bill, and more than $3.6 million in campaign contributions for lawmakers to keep the charges intact.

…The report also suggested that a “revolving door” is commonly used “to lure former government regulators and officials into more lucrative lobbying and consulting jobs” for the industry.

It cites news reports that found 18 former state officials with current ties to FPL. Some worked for FPL, while others joined lobbying firms that represented the company. In addition, five former PSC commissioners, including the current executive director [Braulio Baez], have worked or are working for FPL.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/30/4027893/group-says-power-companies-wield.html
Group says power companies wield too much influence in Legislature

In 2010, two PSC commissioners, appointed by then Gov. Crist, were rejected by the legislature. Their crime? They voted against rate increases and represented independence from utility companies.

Klement and Stevens were appointed by Crist in October after revelations that some PSC members and staffers had become too close to the utilities the agency regulates. A legislatively controlled nominating panel sent Crist six possible appointees for two positions, only two of whom had not worked in the utility industry or at the PSC.

Crist said he was “deeply disappointed” by the votes, particularly claims that the two were not qualified.

“I don’t know how you can [say] that with a straight face — when it’s the Legislature that submitted the names to me in the first place,” he said. “It’s hard to pass the smell test.”

Klement, a former editorial page editor for the Bradenton Herald, released a strongly worded statement calling the confirmation process a farce.

“Today’s vote by the Florida Senate was an example of government at its worst — using vital public regulatory appointments to get back at the governor and to satisfy the wishes of the utility industry,” Klement said.

He warned that utility customers should “hold on to your wallets. Because it seems clear that the Senate leadership is bent on appointing utility-friendly commissioners to the PSC. Make no mistake, this vote was not about ability, it was about money — and politics.”

… Pushing lawmakers to reject Crist’s appointees was a priority for Florida’s largest electric utilities, particularly Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, whose requests for rate increases were rejected by the PSC in January after Klement and Stevens took office.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/two-crist-psc-appointees-who-said-no-to-electric-companies-get-legislative/1090899

March 30, 20214:

The current Public Service Commission has never rejected a request by utilities to collect the nuclear fee and has approved every rate increase request sought by the four companies.

That track record won praise from the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee two weeks ago, when it unanimously supported the reappointment of two PSC commissioners, Art Graham and Ronald Brise.

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, a Democrat from West Palm Beach who serves on the legislator-controlled nominating council, told Graham: “I cannot commend you enough for really getting a grasp on the board, working together and making Florida a better place for all our utilities and most of all our consumers.”

“We have a lovefest,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the committee’s chairwoman.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/watchdog-report-says-power-companies-wield-too-much-influence-in-florida/2172513

A lovefest at the Public Service Commission? A love fest in Tallahassee? Is that really what Florida residents want happening at the PSC and the state capitol between legislators and the energy industry?

This is a part of a wider scandal involving Florida government officials.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/a-history-of-floridas-gift-ban-scandal-reform-repeat/2190090
A history of Florida’s gift ban: Scandal. Reform. Repeat.

Information on hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas are stonewalled.
http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/why-wont-florida-gop-leaders-talk-about-hunting-trips-to-king-ranch-in/2190083

http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/back-and-forth-slugfest-between–rick-scott-and-charlie-crist-intenstifies/2189924
Back-and-forth slugfest between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist intensifies

Fortunately, the Florida news media is covering these issues.

In other states, the public is not so lucky. A rare investigative article on telecom industry dominance in California appeared in the Los Angeles Times.[i] And this Sacramento Bee blog was written on PG&E executives in Gov. Jerry Brown’s top staff.[ii] However, despite or because of the influence of utility, telecom, and other industries in California governance, little is reported in the media.

Meanwhile, the Florida energy companies will ask the PSC tomorrow to eliminate energy conservation goals, and the public is not allowed to speak at the hearing.

 The state’s energy future depends almost exclusively on construction of expensive new power plants, the utilities argued in preparation for the Public Service Commission hearing and in their previous public statements.

The utilities see little merit in any other strategy.

Solar energy? Not reliable. Increased efforts to encourage use of energy efficient appliances and building practices? Not “cost effective.” Studies that show it is cheaper to conserve power than to generate it? Misleading.

Given the pattern of recent decisions, there’s a good chance the PSC will approve the requests from Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Florida Power & Light to gut conservation goals.

Ratepayers alarmed at that prospect will have no opportunity to object at Monday’s hearing. The proceedings will be too ”technical,” the PSC said.

The stakes are high. For the utilities, there’s the prospect of big, guaranteed returns on investments in new plants. Those returns would come from the pockets of utility customers. They, according to economist Shawn LeMond, “are going to get hosed.”

http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/energy/utilities-will-ask-psc-for-permission-to-gut-energy-saving-goals/2189192

PSC Chairman Ronald Brise said,

“Given the technical nature of this goal-setting procedure and no legislative directive to take public testimony, I do not find it necessary to hold a public hearing.” He suggested the public submit comments in writing.

Too technical for the public to provide testimony? No directive from the state legislature for the public’s input and involvement in this important hearing?

Will Florida residents allow this “members only” club to continue, or will there be protests inside and outside the hearing room, demanding the public’s right to participate in this hearing?

In California, the Bagley-Keene Act governing state agencies was enacted in a rare fit of wisdom. It is often ignored, but it stands, nevertheless.

It states,

Section 11120: It is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed. In enacting this article the Legislature finds and declares that it is the intent of the law that actions of state agencies be taken openly and that their deliberation be conducted openly. The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. This article shall be known and may be cited as the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.

Florida residents can say, “Enough is enough.” They can take back the PSC and the state legislature.

Will they?

 

[i] www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-att-20120422,0,4280264.story
AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento, April 22, 2012

“No other single corporation has spent more trying to influence legislators in recent years. It dispenses millions in political donations and has an army of lobbyists. Bills it opposes are usually defeated.”

Also http://www.derekcressman.com/cancelspeakerscup

[ii] http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2011/11/jerry-brown-names-pge-official-dana-williamson-senior-adviser.html#ixzz1ciLUiXdy

Note: PG&E exec Nancy McFadden was in charge of PG&E’s Proposition 16 campaign to stop municipal utility district formation which jeopardizes PG&E’s monopoly. This proposition was defeated by California voters, yet Brown picked McFadden to be his executive secretary/chief of staff when he took office. Jerry Brown appointed both of these PG&E executives after the San Bruno disaster.

 

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