TALLAHASSEE — After what his boss called a year of “distractions,” Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy announced his retirement on Wednesday, following months of negative media reports about his secretive role in manipulating state and local campaigns.
Silagy, 57, who spent 20 years at the nation’s largest monopoly electric company, rose from being vice president of regulatory and state government affairs to FPL’s chief executive officer. He was named chairman of the company last year.
The announcement of Silagy’s retirement came during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. Armando Pimentel, who previously served in several senior executive roles with NextEra Energy, will rejoin the company and is named president and CEO of FPL, said John Ketchum, president and CEO of NextEra.
“When John became CEO of NextEra Energy last year, I committed to him that I would stay in my role for at least one more year, and I’ve now satisfied that commitment,’’ Silagy said in prepared remarks. “While saying ‘goodbye’ to such a great organization is always difficult, I know that now is the right time for me to hand over the reins of FPL.”
In the past few years, Silagy became embroiled in a series of political scandals. Reporting by the Miami Herald and other news organizations revealed FPL’s efforts under his leadership to secretly bankroll a spoiler candidate in a Gainesville state Senate race and a Miami-Dade county commission race, secretly craft legislation to maintain FPL’s grip on the solar energy market, snap up a public utility in Jacksonville, push for rate increases on residential customers, tail a journalist it disliked using private investigators, and secretly take over a supposedly independent news website to attack critics.
In October, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging that a secret fundraising network created by political operatives working for FPL and other clients appears to have violated campaign finance laws and should be investigated.
No ‘connection’ to federal investigation
During the question and answer period with financial analysts, Ketchum denied there was any connection between the federal investigation and Silagy’s retirement.
“We’re not making a connection,” Ketchum responded. He said that when he was chosen to succeed former NextEra CEO Jim Robo, Silagy told him he would give him a year commitment to stay at the company.
“Eric satisfied that commitment to me. 2022 obviously was a year with a lot of challenges, you know, the distractions Eric went through in his prepared remarks, but when you think about all the challenges that he had to overcome with the hurricanes, and with high natural gas prices, and inflation in the supply chain, and, you know, the media allegations and all those things, I think it took a toll.”
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As the largest electric utility in the state with 5.6 million customers, FPL grew under Silagy’s leadership with the acquisition of Gulf Power Co. in Pensacola in 2021. During his tenure, Silagy earned a reputation for his willingness to use the company’s deep pockets to steer campaign donations to elected officials, often using secretive nonprofits and elaborate schemes designed by out-of-state consultants and Florida lawyers to shield the company’s involvement.
An anonymous letter sent on Nov. 4, 2021, to Robo, the then-CEO of NextEra Energy, was leaked to the Miami Herald and other news organizations. It included dozens of internal documents from Matrix LLC, the Alabama-based public relations and lobbying firm then employed by FPL that showed how consultants avoided a paper trail by communicating with Silagy through text messages to his cell phone, or by using his personal Yahoo account email account.
In one series of emails, Silagy used the pseudonym “Theodore Hayes” to communicate with political consultant Jeff Pitts. Silagy also took a personal interest in former state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, a climate change advocate and frequent critic of FPL.
When Rodriguez filed a bill in January 2019 to open the solar market to competition, Silagy wrote to FPL lobbyists John Holley and Daniel Martell: “JJR at it again. I want you to make his life a living hell....seriously.”
FPL has denied any effort to circumvent federal campaign finance law. When Robo was asked about the allegations last year, he said the company had conducted an internal investigation and determined there was no violation of law. Ketchum repeated that claim on Wednesday.
“We did not believe that FPL would be found liable of federal campaign finance violation based on our investigation,” he said. He said there is “no formal legal proceeding” with the FEC now, and NextEra will file a motion for dismissal.
“A claim like this that’s based solely on media reports and allegations is not the type of a claim the FEC should take up,” he said, suggesting the total contributions involved in the allegations “do not exceed $1.3 million.”
One of the ledgers obtained by the Herald that belonged to one of the Matrix employees shows that FPL paid $14.15 million to the dark money account, Mothers for Moderation, from August through December 2018 alone. FPL disputes the accuracy of the ledger.
“We do not believe that the federal allegations, taken as a whole as I said, would have a material impact on our business,” Ketchum said.
Political influence and entanglements
The documents also depicted a picture of Silagy as an executive who took a deep interest in the company’s political operation, the outcome of legislative races, and especially how the company was portrayed in the media.
His consultants planned the acquisition of the Tallahassee-based conservative website the Capitolist, known for its self-described “snarky tone.” After two years of negotiations, an FPL consultant, Abigail MacIver, created a Delaware-based company to pay the founder of the site, former Rick Scott communications director Brian Burgess, using money advanced to her from FPL. She would serve as the president of the company, but Burgess would also report to a former Silagy deputy, Tim Fitzpatrick.
Emails show how Silagy would suggest story ideas to Burgess that reflected favorably on his company, negatively on its critics, and develop stories about reporters he considered unfriendly, including those at the Miami Herald.
In 2009, Silagy directed FPL’s campaign targeting four Florida Public Service Commission members appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist who rejected the largest rate request FPL had ever made. The commissioners, Nancy Argenziano, Nathan Skop, David Klement and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, were not confirmed by the state Senate after behind-the-scenes lobbying.
Since then, FPL has enjoyed favorable treatment by state regulators, winning multi-year base rate increases and the ability to add costs and fees to customer bills. The company has hired several former commissioners and staff members of the Public Service Commission or legislative oversight committees to join its ranks or be hired by firms that do work with FPL and NextEra.
In 2022, the PSC approved a record-setting $4.86 billion in rate increases for FPL customers over the next four years.
Silagy has also maintained close ties with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has appointed him to the Board of Governors of the state university system. Silagy also served a term on the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors.
Silagy was born in Louisiana, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Texas and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. After working as vice president of mergers, acquisitions & divestitures at Entergy Wholesale Operations, he was hired by NextEra Energy in 2003.
His successor, Pimentel, was a member of NextEra’s senior executive team from May 2008 to March 2019 after serving as NextEra and FPL’s CFO. He retired in 2019.
Pimentel will occupy his new posts on Feb. 15 and work with Silagy on a transition, FPL said. Silagy’s last day at the company will be May 15.
NextEra’s stock price was down about 8% to about $77 a share at 3 p.m. on the New York Stock Exchange.