Attorney General Moody rejects ‘energy choice’ petition, calls it misleading

Moody called it a veiled attempt to “eliminate” Florida’s investor-owned utilities.
Published Mar. 2, 2019

In a filing to the state Supreme Court late Friday, the state attorney general’s office said it opposes the petition-driven ballot initiative that would reform how consumers purchase electricity in Florida.

The proposal, put forward by the Citizens for Energy Choices political committee, calls for the customers’ “right to choose” and would loosen the grip of private utility monopolies like Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Co. It would allow customers to pick their electricity providers from a competitive market or give them more options to produce solar energy themselves.

The language aims to protect customers against deceptive or unfair practices and establish an independent market to make energy sales competitive, the Alachua-based committee says.

Attorney General Ashley Moody described the amendment as a veiled attempt to “eliminate” the state’s investor-owned utilities, such as Florida Power & Light.

Although it sells itself as a pro-consumer choice measure, Moody wrote that the amendment’s “undisclosed chief purpose” is actually the opposite.

The amendment’s language, she argued, requires creating a law “prohibiting investor-owned utilities from owning, operating, or even leasing any facilities which generate electricity.”

The result, she wrote, would prevent those utilities from competing in the new electric utility market.

“The title and this statement give the misleading impression that investor-owned utilities would still be able to sell electricity to customers, competing with additional, new providers,” Moody wrote. “But the actual text of the amendment forbids such activity.”

In a statement, Moody elaborated on why she thought the amendment would hurt consumers.

“States that have adopted similar policies to this amendment have caused irreparable damage to their citizens,” Moody’s spokeswoman, Lauren Schenone, said. “In California, this led to blackouts and the collapse of its largest electric company. In Illinois and Massachusetts, their attorney generals have called for the end of this experiment because of the raised rates and deceptive marketing practices harming their citizens.”

Schenone added, “Given how many Floridians live on a fixed income, especially seniors, the Attorney General does not believe that we can risk unpredictable, likely higher electricity prices and questionable marketing tactics.”

The attorney general is required to review citizen petitions and determine whether they comply with the state’s ballot requirements. The state Supreme Court, which will review Moody’s opinion, will then approve the ballot wording.

While Moody’s opinion is important in the process, it’s not definitive when it comes to the proposal’s future. In 2015, the Solar Choice amendment proposal was approved by the Supreme Court even though former Attorney General Pam Bondi opposed it.

The energy choice proposal has already had an unsuccessful run in 2018 through both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes once every 20 years to examine the Florida Constitution and propose changes.

Citizens for Energy Choices said this time, the only way to “give voters what they want” is the amendment proposal.

Alex Patton, the chairman of Citizens for Energy Choices, didn’t know about Moody’s opinion until a reporter called him. He said it came as a surprise.

“We vigorously disagree with Attorney General Moody’s opinion, and our legal team looks forward to working with her office over the coming weeks to deepen the understanding of the concept of energy choice,” Patton texted Friday night.

The group’s proposal is modeled closely after Texas’ deregulation under former Gov. George W. Bush, where the market is more open regarding who can generate and sell electrical power. While the proposal says nothing in the language should be interpreted to affect the existing rights of utility companies, companies like FPL and TECO Energy fear more competition and more rooftop solar would mean lower costs and therefore, lower bottom lines for the regulated monopolies.

During her campaign last year, Moody’s committee took $30,000 from TECO, the same amount as her Democratic opponent’s committee. She took another $7,500 from Gulf Power.

Her committee also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs that are funded by utilities and other companies, including PACs operated by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, an outspoken opponent of the proposal.

Opponents have said the market changes would be complicated and that customers would not save much in costs.

Chris McGrath, a spokesman for FPL, said the company believes the amendment would “force” Floridians to change electric providers whether they want to or not.

“Florida’s regulated energy system today ensures that millions of Floridians have access to electricity that is both cleaner and more affordable than the national average, and this system would be dismantled under the proposed constitutional amendment,” McGrath said. “A proposal that raises so many unanswered questions will have a difficult time making it to the ballot, but if it does, we believe voters will recognize its fundamental flaws.”