March 15, 2019

State economists not opposed to energy choice ballot initiative

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.

November 28, 2018

Democrats and Republicans want to tax pollution — and give the money back to you

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President Donald Trump said “I don’t see” the dangers of climate change that were included in a report released by his own administration. Voters in Democratic-controlled Washington state rejected a tax on carbon at the polls earlier this month. And a host of climate-minded Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelolost reelection and won’t be returning to Congress next year.

But a group of lawmakers on both sides see a politically palatable way to tax pollution: give the money collected from polluters back to every American in the form of a dividend.

That’s the big idea behind the latest piece of climate change legislation proposed by Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist and Florida Republican Francis Rooney. The three House members were part of a five-member group that unveiled the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act on Wednesday, a sweeping bill that would tax carbon emissions and return the money raised by the tax to everyone.

“The goal was to craft a climate proposal that will be a huge leap forward in the way America responds to climate change,” Deutch said. “In South Florida, climate change is not a political issue. Our hope is with the introduction of the legislation that Congress shows that it can understand that as well.”

The carbon tax introduced Wednesday is unlikely to become law this Congress, because all bills that aren’t passed and signed by the president in the next month will expire. But the group of lawmakers see the bill’s introduction as a starting point for climate change discussions in the coming Congress, where Democrats will control the House while Republicans control the Senate and the White House.

More here.

August 29, 2017

Fact-checking Marco Rubio's heckler about oil and gas campaign donations



A college student and climate activist interrupted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio during a recent speech to question Rubio's ties to the energy industry.

September Porras, a Swarthmore college student who is a member of the Sunrise Movement, a national group of climate change activists, challenged Rubio's links to fossil fuels at the Seminole County GOP fundraiser held at a hotel in Altamonte Springs on Aug. 22.

Here is a partial transcript of the exchange:

Porras: "Senator, if you really care about young Americans, why did you take three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives in your last Senate election?"

Rubio: "I’m so glad I live in America where she can say that, in a lot of countries you go to jail, I am grateful that I live in America where ... (applause drowns out a few words) ... I don’t have a problem with protesters..."

Porras: "I’m not a protester, I just want to know why you aren’t answering our questions."

Rubio: "I don’t have a problem with hecklers. I don’t have a problem with any of that. You know why? Because one of the issues I am working on now involves nations where that’s not possible," a reference to his work related to U.S. policy on Cuba and Venezuela. "I am grateful that I live in a nation where people can disagree, I am grateful that I live in a nation where people get to vote every two to four years. I am grateful that I live in a place where people can speak their minds and they can settle their differences at a ballot box."

Rubio then made a call for the United States to achieve energy independence:

"I believe as a cornerstone of allowing us to succeed economically we need to be able to power a 21st century economy, and I believe technological advances are making that energy more efficient and cleaner than ever before. I absolutely believe that America needs to be energy independent. We are crazy as a nation if we don’t utilize all of the resources that God’s blessed this great land with and I will continue to be a strong supporter of that."

The part of the exchange we will fact-check is whether Rubio took three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives during his 2016 Senate bid. 

More here from PolitiFact Florida.

March 27, 2017

FPL's fracking bill returns Tuesday as the only bill on the House committee agenda

Fracking Water Recycling_2The Florida House Subcommittee on Energy and Utilities on Tuesday will hear the proposal sought by Florida Power & Light to allow the company to expand its rate base by charging customers for investments in natural gas fracking operations in other states. 

It's the only bill on the agenda for the committee's three-hour time slot and it's sudden appearance on the committee calendar surprised even the committee's chair, Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, who had been told by House leaders that the bill was not going to get a hearing.

"This is a jump ball bill, is what I'm told,'' said Peters said, who opposes the bill. "There are so many freshman on that committee that I'm not sure they'll know what a jump ball is."

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, the chairman of the Commerce Committee which will hear the bill if it's approved --  as expected -- by the subcommittee, also deflected responsibility for putting the industry-sought bill on the agenda. He would not explain who added it. 

"I did not ask for that to be on the agenda,'' he said. "I reviewed the agenda that had it on it. Nobody forces anybody to hear any bill."

The bill, HB 1043 by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, would give the Florida Public Service Commission the authority to allow utilities that generate at least 65 percent of their electricity using natural gas to invest in oil and natural gas exploration, including fracking.  

Although FPL is the only utility that could meet the criteria to qualify today, Duke Energy Florida, Inc., and Gulf Power Company are expected to qualify in the near future, if the bill is approved, according to an analysis by the House staff. It would also be the first time in the nation that a utility company would be allowed to shift the risk of an exploratory drilling to customers, instead of shareholders, without determining whether the investment is prudent, the analysis said.

The bill is aggressively opposed by environmental advocates, large utility users, and the AARP, which has urged its members to call committee and write legislators and voice their opposition.

Continue reading "FPL's fracking bill returns Tuesday as the only bill on the House committee agenda" »

March 17, 2017

Miami Mayor Regalado to Florida Legislature: Don't let utilities circumvent local regulations

Tomas RegaladoMiami Mayor Tomas Regalado is urging the Florida Legislature to reject two fast-moving bills to allow Florida Power & Light and other electric utilities to circumvent local government regulations when they build transmission lines through local communities. 

The leadership-backed bills, SB 1048 and HB 1055, were each given swift and unanimous approval this week in their first committees with no debate.

The bills are being pushed by FPL to overturn a Florida Third District Court of Appeal ruling that rejected a decision by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, sitting as the Power Plant Siting Board, to allow the company to string two massive transmission lines that will cut through some of Miami-Dade County’s most affluent cities and fragile wetlands.

 "The City of Miami and other local governments have joined in the charge to ensure that FPL complies with the land use regulations enacted to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents," Regalado said in a statement. "If passed, Senate Bill 1048 and House Bill 1055 will allow electric utility companies throughout Florida to avoid and ignore essential regulations."  Download Mayor_Regalado_s_Letter_to_FL_House_and_Senate_Opposing_SB_1048_and_HB_1...

Sponsors of the bill, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, argue that the courts changed 40 years of Florida law with their ruling and the bill simply restores the law.

But Regalado countered that in his letter to members of the House and Senate, saying that the purpose of local land use law is to "ensure the health, safety and welfare of our residents."

"The various court decisions were not simply interpretations of the law, but they ensured that utility companies would have to comply with these local land use regulations so that our Florida residents are not adversely affected,'' he wrote. 

Regalado said, if passed, the legislation proposes to "unravel every holding of the Third District Court of Appeal's decision...and change the current state of the law as it relates to right of way corridors, variances for local land use regulations, and give the Florida Public Service Commission the exclusive authority to order utilities to bury transmission lines." 

No lobbyists for the the City of Miami or any other city have spoken up against the bills at the two committee hearings in which they were passed. 


March 16, 2017

Execs to state: Fix water quality or tourism and boating will suffer

Negron and execsThe leaders of one of the nation’s largest outdoors companies, a major boat manufacturer, and tourism industry officials met with Gov. Rick Scott and legislators Wednesday to make the case that urgent action is needed to end the toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

They detailed how their industries suffered from the impact of the guacamole-looking toxic algae blooms that prompted a state of emergency last year. They offered statistics on how Florida is losing business to other states and warned about the social media buzz over Florida’s bad water, suggesting that if things don’t turn around now, it may take years to reverse.

“If Florida is known as a destination of subpar water quality or bad water, it would absolutely crush our local economy,” said John Lai, representing the Lee County Development Association and the Sanibel/Captiva Chamber of Commerce. He said that one in five jobs in his region rely heavily on tourism but, in the last 30 years, he has watched “the complete degradation of Florida estuaries and water quality.” Story here. 

Photo: Senate President Joe Negron speaks with executives from the outdoors and tourism industries who support his plan to build a reservoir to halt toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee into adjacent estuaries.


March 15, 2017

House committee approves FPL-backed bill to overturn court ruling that blocked transmission lines in wetlands

The victories continued for Florida Power & Light Wednesday as the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee unanimously passed the House companion to a Senate bill that will allow the company to install transmission lines without following the City of Miami's development rules.

The bill, HB 1055, by Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, overturns a Third District Court of Appeal ruling last year on behalf of the City of Miami, which ruled that the governor and the Cabinet — acting as the state siting board, which oversees power plants — failed to consider the city of Miami’s development rules when it approved FPL's plan to string 88 miles of line atop towers standing 80 to 150 feet high. The bill also clarifies that the Public Service Commission has exclusive authority to require that power lines be put underground.

Just as occurred in the Senate committee on Tuesday, the vote for HB 1055 happened with no debate and little discussion. David Childs, lobbyist for the Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group, was the only person to testify. He said the bill provides "important clarifications to ensure that the Power Plant Siting Act will continue to apply as it has historically occurred in this state." 

In May 2014, the siting board signed off on the two controversial power lines and a backup plan as part of an approval for two proposed new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, the plans for which have since been delayed. The court found that the governor and Cabinet failed to take into account the damage done to wildlife and Everglades marshes by FPL building roads and concrete pads in a corridor that would cross fragile wetlands.The decision was challenged by the county and cities of Miami, South Miami and Pinecrest, which argued the board ignored local rules.

If the bill were to become law, FPL is expected to bring the issue back before the governor and Cabinet and it will likely get approval again.



December 01, 2016

Report: Utilities and fossil fuel industry are orchestrating a campaign to oppose solar expansion

Blocking the Sun reportWith Florida now a battleground over the future of solar energy, "utility interest groups and fossil fuel industry-funded think tanks is providing funding, model legislation and political cover for anti-solar campaigns,'' according to a new report funded by environmental activists and think tanks that are opposing the effort. 

The report, “Blocking the Sun,” released by the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center, singles out Florida's four largest utilities -- Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric -- as being among 17 entities nationwide that are working aggressively "to block solar policies."

The report was written by the Frontier Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center, two environmental think tanks backed by pro-solar and anti-climate change activists. The report says it was funded by several individuals that are who are listed in the report's opening pages. 

Coming after the pro-solar groups' defeat of the utility-backed Amendment 1, the missive is a sign that the battle over solar power in Florida is still young. 

It also come out the same day that SolarCity, a subsidiary of Tesla Motors, Inc., announced that it has launched residential solar service in Orlando and is hiring sales staff and installers at its Clermont offices. The company said it plans to expand to additional areas of the state in the coming months.

The debate has already begun over how the issue will be framed. The utilities, with the help of a report by the conservative James Madison Institute and advocacy by the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Tallahassee leaders, have tried to make the case that as more individuals and businesses install solar panels, the cost of providing access to the grid will be divided among fewer paying customers with those left on the grid "subsidizing" others.

Their greatest worry: a “utility death spiral” triggered by customers who abandon the grid as the price of solar panels and energy storage technology declines. 

In some states, "utilities have responded to the challenge posed by solar energy by working constructively with regulators and other decision-makers to develop new business models that maintain consumers’ access to an affordable, reliable electric grid,'' the report says. In others -- like Florida -- they have fought to limit customer-generated solar by attempting to pass the failed Amendment 1 and now want regulators to rollback net metering policies that encourage solar investment. 

The report attempts to provide a road map for the source of much of that information by detailing the role of several organizations have had in the elaborate campaign to limit customer-owned solar expansion throughout the nation:

  • The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade group that represents U.S. investor-owned electric utilities, worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on model legislation to repeal state renewable electricity standards and run an anti-solar public relations campaigns.
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has drafted anti-net metering resolutions and legislation.
  • The Koch brothers, who have funneled tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits, including the 60-Plus organization which spent more than $1 million to promote the utility-backed Amendment 1 in Florida.
  • Americans for Prosperity (AFP) which has run "misinformation campaigns against net metering and other solar policies."
  • The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a Houston-based front group for the fossil fuel industry.

Environment Florida proposes several recommendations for legislators and state regulators to push back. It urges them to resist caps on net metering, added surcharges and tariffs on solar customers and to reject attempts to roll back renewable electricity standards.

Instead of focusing on the "subsidy" narrative pushed by the utility companies, it also wants regulators to calculate the value of distributed solar energy to the grid, encourage community solar projects and they want to polices that allow for "strong net metering and interconnection standards, which enable many customers to meet their own electricity needs with solar power." 


November 02, 2016

Lawsuit alleges utilities intentionally attempted to deceive court, withholding facts on solar amendment

Using new information that came from a leaked audio recording, solar industry advocates on Wednesday filed two legal actions aimed at asking the Florida Supreme Court to disqualify the outcome of Amendment 1 voting because of revelations they claim are proof that Florida’s electric utility industry intentionally attempted to deceive voters.

"Consumers for Smart Solar, Inc., the amendment’s proponents, affirmatively withheld relevant and material information as to the objective and intended purpose of the amendment, and thereby misled this Court (and is now misleading the public) as to the adequacy of the ballot title and summary presented to the voters,''  the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and Floridians for Solar Choice, the pro-solar political committee opposing the amendment, wrote in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. Read our full story here.

The groups ask the court to reopen the case involving the the ballot language used in the proposed Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot and declare it unconstitutionally misleading.

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the political committee backed by the utilities, Consumers for Smart Solar, dismissed the lawsuit as “political grandstanding at its best to deter Florida voters from voting in favor of Amendment 1.” She repeated the industry claim that the amendment “simply safeguards consumer rights, consumer protection and consumer fairness as we grow solar in Florida.”

The lawsuit cites a report in the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times that quotes Sal Nuzzo, the policy director and vice president at Tallahassee think tank supported by the utility industry, calling Amendment 1 "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that attempt to deceive voters into supporting restrictions on the expansion of solar by shrouding it as a pro-solar amendment.

With more than four million voters having already cast their ballots, the groups filed a second lawsuit asking the court to order Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to embargo the counting of votes cast for Amendment 1 until the court rules on the allegations.

“This is an insurance policy. It’s not a sign we’re going to lose,” said Stephen A. Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an organizing force behind the solar industry’s campaign to oppose Amendment 1. “We’ve had so many people come to us and say they were deceived — people who have already voted, people who are confused by it — and they have asked us to take legal action.”

Florida law requires that the Supreme Court review all ballot initiatives to determine if the language is fair and not misleading. The court initially ruled on a 4-3 vote in March that the language was not misleading based on the arguments provided by the lawyers for the utilities.

In an a strongly worded dissent, Justice Barbara Pariente disagreed, calling the ballot language “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” because it is “masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative.”

Recent polls show that Amendment 1 may be falling short of the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law.  Download Solar lawsuits  Download Solar Mandamus lawsuit


November 01, 2016

Bob Graham blasts Amendment 1 as 'deceptive', unneeded and will 'accelerate the decline' of solar

Bob GrahamFormer Florida U.S. Senator and Gov. Bob Graham blasted the utility-backed Amendment 1 Tuesday as “deceptive” and unneeded and a harmful step “backwards” for the state’s energy future.

“I’m discouraged as a citizen how far we have slipped and see Amendment 1 as a means of accelerating that decline in solar in Florida,’’ he said in a conference call with reporters.

Graham, a Democrat, suggested that by rejecting the amendment, voters could send a message to the Legislature that they want the utilities to join with solar advocates “to have a constructive discussion” and instead use the vote “as a springboard for a positive, better energy future for Florida.”

He said Florida should follows Georgia’s lead and pass laws that make it easier for property owners to allow third parties to install solar panels on their roofs, not discourage them, and require utility companies to increase the amount of electricity they generate using solar power.  

But, he warned, if the amendment passes, “it will discourage the expansion of solar by psychologically strengthening the position before an already compliant Legislature and Public Service Commission to erect barriers to solar.’’

"There is no need for a constitutional amendment with this language as it relates to solar energy in Florida,'' he said. "The Public Service Commission and the Legislature have all the authority to do what this amendment purports to do -- whether it's on safety, access, taxation or regulation."

The utilities argue that because homeowners with solar panels still rely on the grid for electricity at night and on cloudy days but they don’t compensate the utilities enough to maintain their power plants, transmission lines and maintenance crews. The emerging argument is that net metering laws that allow homeowners to be reimbursed for the excess energy their solar panels generate, and tax rebates to solar customers, are unfair subsidies intended to benefit solar users at the expense of non-solar users.

“We are opposed to subsidies that are unfair and regressive,’’ said Rob Gould, spokesperson for Florida Power & Light in an email to the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times. “There’s a difference between governmental tax break/credit subsidies [such as the property tax credits for solar installations] and subsidies that benefit certain customers on the backs of other customers (rebates, net metering, etc.).”

Gould wouldn’t say explicitly what the legislative agenda would look like to oppose these “subsidies” but many in the industry have made it clear they want to roll back the current net metering law that, as utilities have in other states.

Suzanne Grant, spokesperson for Duke Energy, said in an email that the utility believes “the current net metering policy needs updating, and we believe customers who use the power grid continuously, like solar customers, should pay for grid access, grid services, and the back- up power they use.”

But Graham called the subsidies concept is “a false argument.” He cited studies commissioned by state regulators in states such as Nevada and Mississippi and complied by the Brookings Institution that conclude that costs associated with more rooftop solar are generally outweighed by benefits.

“The installation of solar saves customers money because it avoids having to build additional generating capacity the cost of which in Florida not only gets passed along to ratepayers once those plant are in operation but, as we learned with Duke Energy on the Gulf Coast, they got paid in advance for build nuclear plants that were never constructed,’’ Graham told reporters, referring to the nuclear cost recovery fees approved by the Legislature and regulators.

Solar advocates argue that it also provides a net benefit to other utility customers because it alleviates the need to fire up expensive “peaker” power plants when utility use is at its peak, reduces demand for energy delivered by power plants that emit carbons, and offsets the need to construct new power plants.

He also warned that if the amendment passes, it could offset the benefits of the the solar amendment approved by voters on the August ballot, Amendment 4, which prohibits tax increases on commercial property that increases in value because of the addition of solar panels. Voters approved that amendment by 73 percent of the vote.

Amendment 1 would "encourage increased taxes on the installation and maintenance of those solar facilities which could counter-balance the economic incentives that Amendment 4 was intended to provide,'' Graham said.

He echoed the argument of other solar advocates that Amendment 1 is deceptive because it leaves the impression that solar could expand in Florida.

"If you see what's being said and placed before us on our television set, you get the impression that this a is pro solar; this will make our electric system safer -- without any definition of what that means,'' he said. "This is deceptive in that all the things the advocates could say could happen with this amendment can happen without this amendment. You don't have to have a constitutional amendment to have adequate regulatory power over solar. You don’t have to have a constitutional amendment to have safety.”

Photo credit: Associated Press