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The Movement for 'Energy Choice' Is Losing Power

September 9, 2019 - 8:00am
FPL's Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station
FPL's Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station

The debate in Tallahassee over the deregulation of Florida's power supply market is largely flying under the radar. But it's a very big deal.

There's an effort to get the utility deregulation amendment on the ballot for the 2020 election, and those behind it are having some trouble both legally and in sparking interest. Polling data has shown a stark resistance to the idea from voters. While the ballot issue against assault weapons grabbed most of the press last week, lawyers on both sides were before the state Supreme Court to argue the ballot initiative on energy.

At issue is the possibility of allowing out-of-state energy providers to come in and compete for customers in the energy-provider marketplace. For example, Infinite Energy is a natural gas provider and part of a consortium called Florida Energy Choice, seeking to have the Florida marketplace opened up so they can enter as a provider. One of the biggest hurdles for the initiative right now is the state law requiring single-issue presentation to voters on any ballot. The deregulation issue seems complex enough to defy such brevity on a ballot.

Attorney General Ashley Moody addressed this specific problem in a brief filed regarding the conflicting message that the ballot language would present. The proposed initiative would prevent any energy company from having control over the entire supply chain -- generating, transmission, and sale/delivery of power. One conflict that exists, however, is while selling this as a “choice” matter, a consumer is removed from being able to choose the same company for all three functions, if they desired.

What the AG was alluding to is a possibility of the voters being misled, because this is sold as a choice, while the likelihood is that many consumers -- or even most -- would lose the option to retain their current energy company, if desired. “The only thing that this initiative does is to take away the current electricity provider as a choice for over 75 percent of Floridians,” said Moody

This reality led to another snag in the process this week, as counsel for both sides of the issue were appearing before the Supreme Court. One of the lawyers for the energy lobby pushing for the ballot initiative seemed to step into an unforced error by essentially admitting to a problem in the language. During a question/answer exchange with a representative of Gainesville’s Infinite Energy Justice Robert Luck noted the very contradiction.

Starting at the 59:00 mark in the testimony here, Luck notes the proposal of any company being prevented to generate, transmit, and sell electricity. “I’m a company and I generate electricity...and I want to sell that electricity,” said the justice, proposing a hypothetical. “How is that not inconsistent with the right that’s now established to me by the ballot summary, that I can sell my own electricity?” Infinite’s representative, Warren Rhea was noticeably off balance here, and went on to say, “Actually, that’s a good point.”
“It’s rare when someone admits that. Thank you,” cracked Luck, to a chorus of laughter.

Polls regarding the utility options have been conflicting, but only if looked at statically. An initial poll released in June seemed to show decent support for the deregulation plan. The poll asked about a number of potential ballot initiatives, with one question regarding the utility breakup option. When asked, “Would you support a state Constitutional Amendment that would deregulate electrical utilities in Florida and allow customers to choose their electricity provider?" Sixty-six percent of respondents answered “Yes.” 

In contrast, a new poll has been drawn up, instigated by the opposition group, Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy (FARE). This poll was a two-pronged effort to clarify voter desires. In one question FARE asked voters not about general approval, but used the actual proposed language on the ballot. They saw only a 40 percent approval return. Then they asked respondents how they felt with the notification that AG Moody had mentioned -- that 75 percent of customers would likely be compelled to switch to another provider. Support collapsed, down to just 21 percent saying they would approve the ballot measure.

The recent brush with Hurricane Dorian that Florida experienced has only made people more leery of change. Outside providers with a limited infrastructure are not viewed as being properly equipped to deal with that kind of calamity. It is another hurdle the “choice” proponents face, and they are already having problems clearing the prior hurdles.

Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.

Comments

This constitutional amendment to deregulate the electric industry is a TROJAN HORSE. Be careful Florida. Electric generation companies want to compete - oh really? If I buy from solar company x because i want to be "green" how do they magically make sure that electric produced from that solar plant gets to my meter? They don't and they can't. It just goes on a grid. Most likely you will receive the electric generated by the FPL gas plant x miles from your home. Correct? JR Kelly (Office of Public Counsel) told me back in 2014 that most states that de-regulated saw price INCREASES and he doubted they would deregulated in Florida. Why did I ask him that question in Dec 2014? Because the outgoing General Counsel of the FPSC made a passionate speech at the Dec 2014 Internal Affairs Meeting to the Commissioners of his dream and prediction of the electric industry being deregulated just like the telecommunication industry. yep, 5 years ago. They are building a Global Grid and they don't want state price regulation to get in their way. Be careful. The regulatory model (price regulation) isn't broken or outdated - our REGULATORS are broken and that is what we need to fix. Focus on the right problem, investigate the cushy relationships that have infected so many of our regulatory bodies and fix that problem.

I live in a state where Electricity is deregulated, and because of it I enjoy lower rates from an alternate energy provider. AEP, DP&L, Duke, and First Energy are forced to try to offer competitive prices to keep the generation portion of the electric bill. The Alternate Energy Suppliers only compete for the Generation charges that are listed on the main electric utilities invoice (which makes up a large portion of the bill) All the other charges are still being charged by the main electric utility company. Florida Citizens would save a fortune if the state deregulated... but they need to help themselves and not be swayed by the crooked politics that are always involved by legislators that want to help out the main Electric utility and line their pockets.

We should be able to choose which electric company to purchase from - no strings attached.

How many decades of open markets and less government and local control have I heard and agreed on as an actual fiscal conservative, to see how completely different they govern?. ………….Fact is utilities as we know FPL, TECO, etc are toast in the future as costs so little to make your own at $.05/kwh retail ...……...….That comes to a 50% ROI/yr for 20+ yrs...…...…..And they make solar at $.04/kwh vs FF generation at $.11/kwh yet they charge $.03/kwh more for solar?...…TECO just admitted their solar is decreasing their fuel costs they are reducing the charge for……..Fact is solar, RE utilities will beat the pants off FF utilities just like they are doing in Texas where they are not afraid if open markets like Florida repubs are, the corporate stooges they are...……...In 12 yrs or so most homes, buildings will make some to a lot more than needed cutting utility demand by 60%, bankrupting them whether repub, utilities care or not because it is so profitable for the people, home owners repub hate to help...If needed people can just leave the grid...……………...Again on the wrong side of decency as usual for repubs who are morally and fiscally bankrupt.

Is there ANYTHING in this state that the Republican government would "regulate" in behalf of the state's consumers? De-regulation is the Republican government's abdication of its fiduciary and 'health, safety, and welfare' duties to its citizens!

Who made that up ? Fiduciary duties to citizens? Really ? A Nanny State is what gives you comfort? Fewer bungling gubmint workers in your life is a GOOD thing. Maybe you’d be happier if you went back home, ‘where we do it different’

Florida "providers" are basically localized Monopolies. If "CHOICE cannot be worded so that it would free us from these monopolies... then do it on two parts - one in 2020, and finish it off in 2022. Even that 2-year delay will make Florida BETTER OFF than it is now!

The "localized Monopolies" you mention are what the industry calls distribution companies. It's impractical to have multiple distribution companies serve your house. How would they handle several sets of wires from your house and all the supporting infrastructure duplicated for each distribution company. That's why this proposal only affects the generation companies. In many cases the generation company and the distribution company are the same. This bill would prevent you from buying from any generating company that was also your distribution company and that would mean about 75% of us would get a new generating company even if your current generating company was the cheapest. I lived in Pennsylvania which has a deregulated system. The savings by going with the cheapest generator were minimal and it was up to you to shop around regularly to maintain the cheapest price. If you had a guaranteed term to your contract you might find a cheaper price the month after you locked yourself into a 1 year contract. Or if you found a no contract deal your price might go up the month after you sign up. I found the savings not worth the effort and went back to my local utility and let them figure out where to get the cheapest energy.

True competition across state lines in anything from insurance to utilities to online schools and much more forces companies to bring their best products and best prices to the marketplace. Problem is special interest groups hide bad stuff in the wording that goes on the ballot. No confidence keeps good things for the people out of our reach ☹️

Do not assume that the public has lost interest in how their power is delivered and what it costs. If there was an initiative to force electric companies to purchase excess power generated by homeowner solar systems there would be strong support. Recent attempts by the Florida power industry to cloak monopolistic behavior as “choice” in a citizen referendum have made voters wary. Also, the GOP legislature in the past few legislative sessions has made running genuine citizen led referendums much more difficult - probably because of the success of several successful citizen campaigns. Example Amendment 1 (2014) which would have require the state to protect more land in Florida from development and Amendment 4 (2018) that would have allowed most individuals with a felony in their past to vote. Both passed by wide margins only to be gutted by the Republican legislators in Tallahassee.

How about "competition", the "key to capitalism"?... EVERYONE can "profit" from THAT !?!

FINALLY - I agree with Anonymous...

Just change the ballot language to indicate open choice...

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