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Report: Florida's Utility Companies Hold Power Over Regulators

According to Integrity Florida, utilities have an outsized lobbying presence in the state Capitol, employing more than one lobbyist for every two legislators. (Pixabay)
According to Integrity Florida, utilities have an outsized lobbying presence in the state Capitol, employing more than one lobbyist for every two legislators. (Pixabay)
May 17, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The power generated by Florida's four largest utilities goes far beyond just turning your lights on, according to a new report by a watchdog group that found the companies hold significant power over those that are supposed to regulate them.

The report by Integrity Florida and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy showed a mix of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures by Florida's big power companies totaling more than $43 million during the 2014 and 2016 election cycles alone. Integrity Florida research director Ben Wilcox said their study shows the companies have long been buying their power and wielding their influence to maintain that power.

"We found that the energy companies spent more than twice as much in the most recent four-year period than in the previous 10-year period documented in the original 2014 Power Play report,” Wilcox said.

The report also showed that the companies poured in $20 million to advance a constitutional amendment that would have limited competition in the solar energy market, but the effort failed to pass. In response to the report, Duke Energy Florida issued a statement saying their contributions are made in accordance with campaign finance laws.

Wilcox said the companies, which also include Florida Power and Light, TECO Energy and Gulf Power, have found ways to bypass restrictions on using customer dollars to lobby.

"Regulators are allowing them to bypass that ban, paying dues to trade groups like the Edison Electric Institute and other associations that lobby on their behalf,” he said.

The report noted the power companies employ around 100 lobbyists, compared with the 160 members of the Legislature. Integrity Florida and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are calling for reforms including prohibiting campaign contributions by regulated utilities to state candidates and political committees, requiring detailed lobbyist compensation reporting and independence of the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates the industry.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL