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State economists not opposed to energy choice ballot initiative

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AL DIAZ ADIAZ@MIAMIHERALD.COM

A petition-driven ballot initiative that would reform how consumers purchase electricity in Florida now has some policy experts for the state saying that they are not totally opposed to the idea. 

The state's Financial Impact Estimating Conference declined to weigh in on the Citizens for Energy Choices political committee Friday, rejecting the argument from opponents — mainly investor-owned utilities — by saying the final implementation of a potential new system is "unknowable at this time."

“Because it [energy choice] is subject to legislative implementation, the final design of the restructured system is unknowable at this time," they concluded.

The conference is made up of state economists and meets under the Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The office serves as the research arm of the Legislature and, according to their website, is mainly concerned with forecasting economic and social trends that affect policy making, revenues and appropriations.

The proposal, put forward by the political committee, calls for the customers’ “right to choose” and would loosen the grip of private utility monopolies like Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. It would allow customers to pick their electricity providers from a competitive market or give them more options to produce solar energy themselves.

The language aims to protect customers against deceptive or unfair practices and establish an independent market to make energy sales competitive, the Alachua-based committee says.

"When you take away the utilities' narrative and you put it in the hands of the policy experts, the utilities' narrative is a false report," said Alex Patton, the chairman for Citizens for Energy Choices. "The utilities have every institutional advantage. Every single one." 

Despite the estimating conference's stance, the state attorney general's office opposes the initiative. 

In a filing to the state Supreme Court last week, Attorney General Ashley Moody described the amendment as a veiled attempt to “eliminate” the state’s investor-owned utilities, such as Florida Power & Light.

Although it sells itself as a pro-consumer choice measure, Moody wrote that the amendment’s “undisclosed chief purpose” is actually the opposite.

The amendment’s language, she argued, requires creating a law “prohibiting investor-owned utilities from owning, operating, or even leasing any facilities which generate electricity.” The attorney general is required to review citizen petitions and determine whether they comply with the state’s ballot requirements. The state Supreme Court, which will review Moody’s opinion, would then approve the ballot wording.

While Moody’s opinion is important in the process, it’s not definitive when it comes to the proposal’s future. In 2015, the Solar Choice amendment proposal was approved by the Supreme Court even though former Attorney General Pam Bondi opposed it.

The energy choice proposal unsuccessfully attempted to reach the ballot in 2018 through both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes once every 20 years to examine the Florida Constitution and propose changes.

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