Money and its potential to corrupt is at the very center of complaints about today’s politics. Regardless of your political stripe, one thing most of us can agree upon is that money in politics leads to policies that hurt everyday people.
A report authored by the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida, 2018 Power Play Redux: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations, shows that money in politics continues to be a huge problem in the Sunshine State. Florida’s four biggest power companies’ political spending to state level candidates, political parties, and political committees grew to more than $43 million in the 2014 and 2016 political cycles (more than double the spending from 2002 through 2012). Moreover, the power companies, FPL, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric, and Gulf Power collectively employ 90 to 100 legislative contract lobbyists – that’s more than 1 lobbyist for every 2 legislators!
Among other policy options, the report recommends a prohibition on campaign contributions from regulated utilities to state candidates and political committees that support or oppose state candidates in order to stem the tide of power company money flowing into state campaigns.
How much utility money has your state candidate accepted? Ask them. It matters. The influence of tens of millions of dollars leads to energy policies by elected officials and regulators that often benefit utility shareholders at the expense of everyday customers. Consider the following few policy examples that unnecessarily push your electricity bill higher.
Customers get stuck holding the bag on billions of dollars of nuclear cost recovery for reactors that will never produce a single kWh of electricity. FPL customers have already paid close to $300 million for proposed reactors at its Turkey Point plant that will likely never be built and never produce any power – pursuant to the early cost recovery law that shifts all the financial risk of building reactors from shareholders and places it squarely on the shoulders of customers. Likewise, Duke Energy Florida customers got stuck with over $3.2 Billion in costs in 2014 from the failed repair of the CR3 reactor and the abandonment of the proposed Levy reactors (although the impact has since been partially mitigated) – both projects utilized the early cost recovery law.
Customers are also being forced to pay over $200 million for power company negligence. In an unprecedented move that heaped more costs onto customers, the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2017 allowed FPL to recover costs from families and businesses to remediate an underground hyper-saline contamination plume leaking from its Turkey Point plant cooling canal system. FPL was issued a notice of violations by the Department of Environmental Protection for violating its permit and endangering south Florida’s drinking water resource – the Biscayne Aquifer. The costs are being recovered under a law that allows power companies to charge customers for costs to meet environmental protection requirements. The Office of Public Counsel has appealed to PSC order to the Florida Supreme Court – appropriately arguing that the law is not meant to be used to recover costs associated with violations of law.
Customers don’t get meaningful programs from their power company to help reduce energy use and save money on bills. Energy efficiency is often the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to reduce energy use and save money on bills. Efficiency programs are particularly important to lower-income and fixed income customers. The programs provide information and financial incentives for customers to upgrade their home and business in order to use energy smarter. Florida has historically had low efficiency goals relative to states that lead on clean energy – and is currently ranked 43rd out of 50 states for helping customers reduce energy use. In 2014, the state’s biggest power companies argued for gutting their conservation goals by 87-99%. The PSC approved the request – and the current investor-owned utility goals effectively eliminate energy efficiency programs for Florida’s families and businesses. Want to lower your energy bill? Don’t expect help from your power company.
And the list goes on, but in the interest of time (and space) all the bad outcomes for customers can’t be described here. The 2017 Integrity Florida report on the Florida PSC provides a more comprehensive list.
Meanwhile, power company money continues to fuel state races. The Energy Policy Institute compiled information for the 2018 cycle and finds that more than $8 million has flowed from power companies directly to state candidates and their political committees thus far – more than 5 million from FPL alone, and even more utility money is funneled through trade groups like the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida.
Ultimately, Florida will have to find a way to turn off the spigot of vast amounts of big power company money flowing to politicians. Moving towards a lower cost, lower risk, and clean energy future demands it. Shining a light on the corrupting influence of money, as the Integrity Florida report has done, is a good first step in getting us closer to a solution.