Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Lawmakers and utilities — once more into your wallets, dear friends

Published Mar. 9, 2017

Think about the worst movie to ever come out of Hollywood.

A film that was a proven disaster, without any redeeming value.

And now imagine this:

They're making a sequel.

Apparently, that type of backward thinking went into a pair of energy bills being considered in the Florida Senate and House. Piggybacking on the billions of dollars that Florida customers lost on nuclear power gambles, there is now a pathway for the same kind of ripoff for fracking.

Yup, coming soon to Florida:

Consumer Hell, Act II.

These bills would allow Florida Power & Light to charge customers up front for speculative fracking ventures. Essentially, they want you to take the risk in case those gambles come up empty.

"This is a legislative tax on Florida ratepayers, and a corporate handout to FPL," said lawyer Nathan Skop, a onetime FPL manager and former commissioner on the Florida Public Service Commission.

It's a little gift from lawmakers who have also been known to roll over and beg every time a utility boss walks in a room. In Tallahassee, it's known as privatizing the profits while socializing the risks.

This is how the nuclear cost recovery clause has cheated ratepayers since 2005. Customers of Duke Energy, alone, lost $3.2 billion on nuclear power plants without gaining a single kilowatt of power.

"They're gambling with your money, and making a profit," said Bill Newton of the Florida Consumer Action Network. "Should they be allowed to go to a casino with consumer money? Hell no."

That's not how the utilities spin it. By investing in exploration efforts today, they say, customers will end up saving money in the long run.

Except that strategy didn't work with nukes. And it didn't work with gas hedging, which has cost Florida ratepayers $6 billion since 2002. Even FPL's first stab at fracking with customer financing — which the state Supreme Court shut down last year because the Legislature had not approved it — operated at a $5.8 million loss.

"There is nothing in the previous performance model to suggest there is an opportunity to save money for the ratepayer," said Susan Glickman, the state director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "It shifts 100 percent of the risk from the shareholders to the ratepayers."

This has nothing to do with whether fracking — which uses acid or high-pressure chemicals to loosen gas deposits underground — is environmentally dangerous around here. Florida Power & Light's current fracking operation is in Oklahoma, and would not be affected by a Senate proposal to ban fracking in Florida. This proposal focuses on the financing, and not the philosophy, of fracking.

As it's currently written, House Bill 1043, proposed by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, would apply to Florida Power & Light because the company exceeds a proposed threshold of reliance on natural gas. Yet indications are that Duke Energy would also exceed that threshold in the near future.

So why are state legislators continually finagling laws that make utility companies seem like paupers while customers apparently have money to burn?

Might it have something to do with more than $9 million that the utility companies funneled to the campaigns of state politicians in the last election cycle?

"Brodeur has been bought and paid for by Florida Power & Light and the other utilities," said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who fought to repeal the nuclear cost recovery program while in the Legislature. "And this will be the same ripoff people got hit with on nuclear costs."

When the nuclear cost recovery fee was pushed through the Legislature more than a decade ago, very few people seemed to recognize the implications. Now, billions of dollars later, that's no longer true.

So, if you care about your bank account, you may want to pay attention to the sequel.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Courtney Wild, 30, was a victim of serial sexual offender Jeffrey Epstein beginning at the age of 14. Epstein paid Wild, and many other underage girls, to give him massages, often having them undress and perform sexual acts. Epstein also used the girls as recruiters, paying them to bring him other underage girls. Courtesy of Royal Caribbean
    Courtney Wild’s relentless quest for justice has led to a bipartisan push for sweeping reforms.
  2. Scott Israel, former Broward County Sheriff speaks during a news conference on Sept. 25, in Davie. A Florida Senate official is recommending that the sheriff, suspended over his handling of shootings at a Parkland high school and the Fort Lauderdale airport, should be reinstated. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Naples lawyer Dudley Goodlette was threatened shortly after he made his recommendation last month.
  3. Rep. Jamie Grant, R- Tampa and Senator Jeff Brandes, R- St. Petersburg listen to Amendment 4 debate in the Florida Senate on Thursday. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times] SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    “I think some of the points of the judge were well-made," Sen. Jeff Brandes said.
  4. Tiffany Carr — shown during a 2004 visit to a Hollywood nail salon, where she spoke on domestic violence — did not respond this past week to requests from the Miami Herald to address her $761,560 annual salary. She is head of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. [Bob Eighmie Miami Herald file photo]
    The Florida Department of Children and Families started a review of a domestic violence nonprofit’s finances last summer after it was reported that its CEO Tiffany Carr was paid $761,000. The state...
  5. Pinellas County teachers and their allies rallied at major intersections in 2012 to protest legislative proposals. [Jim Damaske, Times]
    Details are still scant, but the House’s tone was one of being fiscally cautious as they evaluate DeSantis’ pitch to raise base teacher pay.
  6. Igor Fruman - Lev Parnas Miami Herald
    Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — now subpoenaed to turn over documents in the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump — sought to invest in one of Florida’s state-issued cannabis licenses.
  7. Term-limited GOP Commissioner Sandy Murman is filed in the clerk’s race but may not run there. CHRIS URSO   |   Times
    At this point, William March writes, there are no declared Republican candidates for the open clerk of court and tax collector seats or the two open county commission seats.
  8. [SKIP O'ROURKE   | Times]
    It’s unclear if there will be any proposed changes to this method for measuring teachers’ impact on their students’ performance, despite complaints.
  9. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, announces his education proposals in front of Franklin Middle Magnet School in Tampa last month. He says he wants to reduce "bureaucratic waste and administrative inefficiency" in Florida schools. But many educators say their budgets are already cut to the bone. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
    DeSantis said Wednesday he will call for expanding state oversight of septic tanks, developing better oversight of wastewater and stormwater systems and requiring the state to track agricultural...
  10. In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, file photo, a woman using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File) TONY DEJAK  |  AP
    “We’re looking at it, we’re going to be thorough in our investigation, and we will hold accountable any companies that are intentionally targeting and misleading our youth regarding vaping products,”...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement