Sunday, December 17, 2017
Politics

Bousquet column: Duke Energy makes battle for governor go nuclear

A power company that writes six-figure checks to the governor's re-election gets attention.

But this is not what Duke Energy had in mind.

Duke is a major corporate presence in Tampa Bay, a player in state politics and deeply invested in Republican Gov. Rick Scott's re-election.

But the utility seems radioactive as it finds itself caught in the crossfire of sound-alike TV ads in which Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist accuse each other of doing Duke's nuclear plant bidding at the expense of Tampa Bay ratepayers.

Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy in 2012, and the Progress name has been more generous in spreading campaign money to Florida politicians lately.

Progress made $1.2 million in Florida donations in the current two-year cycle, including $600,000 to the Republican Party and $500,000 to Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work. Progress gave a paltry (by comparison) $62,500 to the Florida Democratic Party.

Duke has donated $250,000, more than half of which ($132,000, including food and lodging) went to the Republican Party of Florida.

Most of Duke's smaller checks went to Republican legislators. Tampa Bay recipients include Republican Reps. Richard Corcoran, James Grant, Kathleen Peters, Jake Raburn, Dan Raulerson, Jimmie Smith, Ross Spano and Dana Young, along with Democratic Reps. Janet Cruz and Darryl Rouson and Republican Sens. Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes.

"We actively participate in the political process, and we support candidates who have like-minded business solutions for the state of Florida," said Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey.

Duking it out with the utility is liberal advocacy group NextGen Climate, backed by deep-pocketed donor Tom Steyer, with an ad that tells viewers that "Scott took Duke's money" and that he's "for the powerful few, not you."

Scott's campaign fired back that Crist, as a Republican governor, approved a law that allowed the company to charge customers billions for a Levy County nuclear plant that will never be built.

PolitiFact Florida has noted that the original "advance recovery fee" law was signed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, not by Crist.

Duke's latest vocal critic is Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a veteran lawmaker who tangled with Duke as a supporter of a 2013 law that gives utilities 10 years to start construction of a plant or end the advance fee.

Latvala wrote to Duke and to state utility regulators about changes to Duke's meter-reading schedules that charge some customers more in the short term. The changes are designed to upgrade efficiency by reducing trips Duke's meter readers must make to the same subdivisions, but Latvala was outraged that Duke would impose them in August when utility bills are skyrocketing.

"It might be legal," Lat­vala wrote, but "it certainly isn't moral."

And wouldn't you know? Latvala's name is nowhere on the list of recipients of Duke Energy campaign contributions this election cycle.

"I don't need their money," Latvala said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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