Utility companies spending millions of consumer dollars to push Amendment 1

Adam Hall Steven Gabert
In this July 28, 2015, photo, electricians Adam Hall, right, and Steven Gabert, install solar panels on a roof for Arizona Public Service company in Goodyear, Ariz. Traditional power companies are getting into small-scale solar energy and competing for space. The emerging competition comes as utilities and smaller solar installers fight over the future of the U.S. energy system. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(WFLA) — The Amendment 1 solar power initiative is shaping up as one of the most expensive constitutional ballot questions in Florida history. The interests that are pushing for its passage — dominated by the state’s largest power companies — have contributed $21.5 million to the campaign.

How can public utilities that are essentially regulated monopolies spend so freely on political campaigns? The simple answer is Florida’s Public Service Commission (PSC), the agency that sets electric rates, allows it. Technically, ratepayers don’t fund any political spending; utility shareholders pay for that out of company profits. It’s up to the PSC to make sure political spending is coming out of the right pocket and not the wrong one – yours.

“The big monopoly utility companies are spending enormous amounts of money out of profits they make out of customers like you and to argue against people’s own best interest,” said Susan Glickman who is campaigning with Floridians for Solar Choice to defeat Amendment 1.

“We have people power. They have $22 million, and we have 22 million people,” Glickman added.

Maybe so, but, in politics and life, money talks. If the possibility of paying for the Solar Amendment campaign out of your electric bill bothers you, there’s more. Power companies employ dozens of lobbyists to promote their political interests year in and year out in Tallahassee. Florida Power and Light has 35 legislative lobbyists on its payroll. TECO has 20, and Duke has 21. That’s enough to provide about one utility lobbyist for every two legislators in Tallahassee, not including Florida’s other big utility, Gulf Power, which employs its own team of lobbyists.

None of that includes the millions those companies collectively contribute to the political candidates who become the state lawmakers that control legislation regarding utilities. Again, legally speaking, utilities are supposed to pay for all of that out of their profits after they charge customers for the actual cost of supplying electricity. The PSC allows utility companies, inlcluding Duke Energy, TECO and Florida Power and Light, to earn a profit margin of between 10 percent and 11 percent of their revenue. That amounts to a mighty big bucket of profits to draw from in order to influence political outcomes in Florida.

RELATED: Florida’s solar amendment could confuse voters

Floridians For Solar Choice — the solar special interest group that wants free and open consumer access to solar power — has mustered a measly $240,000 to campaign against the Consumers for Smart Solar (the pro-Amendment 1 group backed by the utility companies) campaign, that has raised 90 times that much to convince voters to say yes to Amendment 1 in the November election.

Those in the vote “no” campaign hope to won over voters in ways that don’t require a lot of spending. “We’re relying on social media and we’re also relying on the traditional media because we’ve had 25 newspaper editorials that say ‘vote no on 1,” Glickman said.

Glickman’s anti-solar Amendment 1 group, Floridians for Solar Choice, has hundreds of individual  “consumer” contributors giving small amounts to its cause. Meanwhile, Consumers for Smart Solar ironically has just a dozen individual “consumers” on its contribution list, including Dick Batchelor, co-chairman of the group. Batchelor gave $100 as an individual supporter. All told, 12 “consumers” listed in the Consumers for Smart Solar state contribution records gave a grand total of $305 of the $22.5 million total or .00001% of the total contributions on the “yes” side of the of the ballot battle, so far.

Whether they know it or not, and want to or not, hundreds of thousands of other electric “consumers” in Florida are indirectly playing a role in the millions major utility companies are giving to Amendment 1 by providing the regulated baseline of those company profits. Duke Energy alone has written single checks for $2.7 million In April and $1.5 million in July to promote the cause. Florida Power and Light stroked a check in April for $2.8 million. Without ratepayers, there would be no opportunity for utilities to spend their company shareholders’ profits on politics.

8 On Your Side reached out to Consumers for Smart Solar for comment on Monday. The campaign’s PR firm responded by asking for a list of written questions and did not honor News Channel 8’s request for a telephone interview.

WFLA.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s