Energy Choice Amendment Draws Fire

Apr 23, 2019
Originally published on April 22, 2019 6:07 pm

A push to give Floridians greater choice over energy providers is heating up. Proponents say it will increase competition and drive down costs. But not everyone feels the electricity.

Citizens for Energy Choices, a Gainesville-based group pushing the proposed amendment, wants to let Floridians choose their energy providers. Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant, is the committee’s chairman. He said the proposal is modeled after how Texas restructured its energy market.

“But in a nutshell, our proposal would allow Florida citizens to have the right to produce their own and sell their own energy without the interference of the utility monopolies,” Patton said.

Utility companies would retain control of – and responsibility for – the poles and power lines. In other words, when the power goes out, it’s up to the utility company to fix it.

“However, power generation becomes fully competitive, which means anybody can generate their own power and anybody can sell their own power,” Patton said. 

He argues opening up the market will increase competition, and therefore, bring down prices. Patton points to rooftop solar as an example.

Municipal utilities – those owned by local governments – and co-op utility companies would be excluded. Patton says these companies can opt in, but acknowledges they have a “sovereign right” to utility ownership.

Meanwhile opponents of the proposal – and there are many – say it’s misleading. Sixteen organizations have filed briefs in opposition with the state Supreme Court.

The court must certify the language used in initiatives before they make it on the ballot.

The Florida Senate and House, Attorney General, Florida League of Cities, the Public Service Commission, Audubon of Florida and a number of utility companies have all lined up to fight the proposal.

Gil Ziffer, a board member of Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy, doesn’t believe the proposed amendment would bring costs down. Instead, he said it will do the opposite.

“This is primarily driven by energy users who use a tremendous amount of energy," Ziffer said. "They’ll negotiate lower rates which means the rest of us will be paying more.”

Ziffer said increasing energy choice would disrupt the market, giving consumers less control and utility companies less accountability.

“We currently have a system where when big utilities want rate increases, they have to go through the Public Service Commission to get them approved," Ziffer said. "This amendment basically deregulates, and the ability for consumers to actually control their energy costs goes away.” 

Likewise, state Attorney General Ashley Moody called the proposal’s ballot language “affirmatively misleading.”

The Florida League of Cities argued it’s a “special interest snow job.”

But Patton is adamant it’s energy reorganization, not deregulation.

“You know, it’s one of these red herring arguments," Patton said. "As we discussed, our proposal maintains the current regulatory structure for the wires and the poles. The PSC still forms a role, they still set tariff rates on the poles and distribution. And so there is no such thing as deregulation.”

Yet last week, state House and Senate lawyers joined the fray. The Senate brief argued the proposed amendment violates the single subject requirement for constitutional amendments, and it will require the legislature to “upend the entire electric utility regulatory framework.” House counsel called it an “abuse of the initiative process.”

As of Monday, the proposal had 201,609 signatures. It needs 766,200 to make it onto the 2020 ballot.

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