Trigaux: Is Duke Energy's iron grasp on Tallahassee slipping?

Published Dec. 9, 2014

State legislators, apparently waking from a long winter's nap, are introducing measures that would crack down on big power companies like Duke Energy Florida that are relentlessly gouging ratepayers.

Is Christmas coming early? Curtailing utilities' Grinch-like ways in Florida, even by a smidgen, would be quite a gift.

One bipartisan legislative proposal announced Monday seeks to "reform" the Florida Public Service Commission — the state's stooge organization that is supposed to (but does not) regulate power companies in this state.

Condemned by many as corrupt, the PSC wears such criticism like a badge of honor.

Another measure introduced by two Tampa Bay area legislators would repeal the nuclear plant construction advance fee and require Duke Energy Florida to refund billions it has collected for failed nuclear projects.

Here's where victimized Floridians enter the picture.

Could these measures become the kind of critical mass for the 2015 legislative session that finally rattles the historically impervious hold Duke Energy and other deep-pocketed power companies have on Florida lawmakers?

That's possible if Floridians rally and make enough noise to be heard by lawmakers.

Or are such measures just more legislative gas? Are these bills "vapor" proposals meant to look good back home to beleaguered Duke Energy ratepayers but structured to evaporate or, at best, get watered down next year?

The latest bill to reform the hapless PSC was just introduced by two state Republicans, newly elected Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor and Sen. John Legg of Lutz. Legg was one of many legislators who in 2006 voted in favor of a measure letting power companies charge ratepayers in advance to construct nuclear power plants — and keep those funds if they decided to skip the project altogether.

In 2013, Legg saw the light, if dimly, pushing a measure to tweak the advance fee. In the end, only a modest revision of the advance fee was passed and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The new Sprowls-Legg measure would promise at least a hint of accountability to the PSC's limp oversight.

"While millions of Floridians are left in the dark — or fleeced by companies like Duke Energy — the PSC continues to turn a blind eye," Sprowls states.

Far more ambitious legislation from two area lawmakers seeks to repeal the nuclear advance fee and require Duke Energy Florida to refund billions it charged for failed nuclear projects.

Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, and newly elected Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, want Duke held responsible for billions the utility collected from its 1.7 million customers without delivering any electricity for it.

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Admirable goals. And gutsy moves by Republican newbies Sprowls and young Latvala — not only to take on Duke's campaign cash machine in Tally, but the company's yes men who run the Legislature.

So, angry Floridians: Here's a real, if uphill, political opportunity to make change happen. Don't waste it.

Contact Robert Trigaux at