Lost in the tumultuous presidential election and the down-ballot fears, something big has been happening quietly in Florida this year: Electric companies have dropped $29.3 million into political campaigns.
Since January 2015, $20 million of the industry’s profits went to finance and promote Amendment 1, the ballot initiative that attempts to frustrate the expansion of consumer-owned rooftop solar in Florida. And another $9.3 million more went to fuel the campaigns of a select group of powerful legislative leaders in an effort to prepare for a prolonged war against rooftop solar. (Note this number is updated after a significant miscalculation of the total in initial reports.)
The bulk of the money is being used to promote Amendment 1 but, if that effort fails, the industry is also investing heavily into the Legislature to create favorable conditions in Florida, as utilities have in other states, to push back against the proliferation of rooftop solar.
In other states, that effort has included attempts to make solar less economically feasible by reducing the amount the utility spends to reimburse customers for generating excess electricity to the grid through “net metering,” imposing new fees on solar users and pre-empting local governments from opening the door to more solar competition.
Former Florida U.S. Senator Bob Graham blasted the amendment Tuesday as “deceptive” and unneeded and, if approved, will be a harmful step “backwards” for the state’s energy future.
According to Division of Elections reports, the biggest spender on the effort is Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, which has poured $14.1 million into political campaigns this cycle — $6.1 million into state legislative campaigns, and $8 million to Consumers For Smart Solar, the utility-backed political committee promoting the amendment on the
Nov. 8 ballot.
Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg-based company and the state’s second largest utility, spent $8 million, including $6.7 million promoting Amendment 1. Tampa Electric Co., the third largest utility, has pumped $4.7 million into the political system, including $3.2 million for the amendment; and Gulf Power has invested $2.5 million, including $2.2 million to the political committee backing the amendment.
The committee has raised more than $26 million, including $6 million from nonprofits and special interest political committees that have received substantial funding from the utility industry. By comparison, records show Florida’s sugar industry spent $57.8 million over 20 years to dominate legislative policy. The electric utilities will have spent more than half of that in a single year.
By comparison, records show Florida’s sugar industry spent $57.8 million over 20 years to dominate legislative policy. The electric utilities will have spent more than half of that in a single year.
The candidates whose political committees benefitted most from the money were all Republicans: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who accepted more than $381,000; Sen. Bill Galvano, who got $101,000 and Sen. Wilton Simpson, who received $98,000.
The utility-backed political committee and its surrogate spokespeople have promoted Amendment 1 as a “pro solar” initiative but, rather than open the state to more solar, the amendment asks voters to inject new language into the Constitution that will serve as a barrier to entry for any company that attempts to compete with the utility giants in providing solar energy in Florida. More here.
Here's the list of solar contributors by company, and the individual campaigns that have collected the most money from the utility investment:
Florida four largest electric utilities have spent $29.3 million so far this election cycle, including $20.7 million for Consumers for Smart Solar, CSS, the political committee promoting Amendment 1. (The committee has raised another $6 million from non-profits and special interest political committees that have received substantial funding from the utility industry.)
Top utilities’ contributions
FPL: $14.1 million total political contributions, $8 million to CSS
Duke Energy: $8.0 million total, $6.7 million to CSS
Gulf Power: $2.5 million total, $2.2 million to CSS
Tampa Electric Co: $4.7 million total, $3.2 million to CSS