Florida Representative Lawrence McClure asked the Florida Public Service Commission to review the rules and regulations related to customer-owned solar and net metering. The request, which McClure made on May 22, echoes utility claims that rooftop solar is a threat to low to middle-income Floridians, and followed McClure’s direct communication with Florida’s investor-owned utilities, as referenced in communications obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute. McClure attached to his request an anti-rooftop solar document produced by Energy Fairness, a utility front group

Net metering is the policy that compensates rooftop solar owners at the retail rate for the energy they produce and sell to the grid. 

The Public Service Commission (PSC) scheduled a workshop on net metering for next week, September 17, 2020. Depending on the outcome of the workshop, the PSC could open a rule-making docket and potentially change the rules governing net metering for Florida utilities. The PSC is not allowing public comment at the workshop.

Florida’s net metering policies have been in place in Florida since 2008. Under Florida law, the PSC has administration and implementation authority, and rooftop solar advocates viewed the potential opening of the rule-making docket to be a direct attack on rooftop solar for the state.

Florida’s investor-owned utilities have attacked rooftop solar policies in the past. In 2016, they spent over $20 million on a failed effort to pass a deceptive ballot initiative, Amendment 1, which purported to support rooftop solar, but would have paved the way for more restrictions and fees on solar customers.

Of the over 20 million people in Florida, only 0.05% are currently enrolled in net metering, or approximately 60,000 customers, as reported by the PSC in 2019. The Commission reaffirmed its support of the current net metering policy in 2019, calling it “an effective means of encouraging the development of demand-side renewable energy systems that allow participants to offset their energy usage.”

Anti-rooftop solar representative accepted over $20,000 from Florida utilities, heavily funded by PACs

Representative McClure has received significant donations from Florida utilities throughout his political career. He reported a total of $20,500 in utility donations, $10,500 to him directly and $10,000 to his political committee, “Conservative Florida.” The $10,000 contribution to his political committee came from TECO, and was split into two $5,000 donations this year, one reported January 8, and the second on May 31, after his letter had been sent to the PSC. Of the $10,500 that McClure received in direct contributions, $3,500 came from Duke, $2,500 from NextEra and its subsidiary Gulf Power, and $4,500 from TECO.

McClure is heavily supported by political committees, or PACs, which have looser restrictions and can accept and spend unlimited amounts, while direct candidate donations are capped at $1,000. Of the $521,739 in direct contributions that McClure has received since 2017, $166,100, about 32%, has come from political committees. Florida utilities frequently make sizable donations to political committees and parties, which then support candidates directly. For example, McClure accepted $1,500 from Associated Industries of Florida’s PAC (AIF), a powerful business group that supports conservative politicians and that has received over half a million dollars from Florida utilities in the 2020 election cycle alone. McClure also reported $23,734.83 in “in-kind” donations from the Republican Party of Florida, which in turn has received $1,099,700 from Florida utilities so far this election cycle.  

Utility front group “Energy Fairness” has long history of advocating for utility interests

The Energy Fairness document that McClure included in his request to the PSC names former Florida PSC member Lisa Edgar as one of the authors. Edgar earned a reputation for being helpful to utilities’ interests as a Commissioner. In 2016, the Sun Sentinel editorial board noted the close relationship, stating she “never misses a chance to help FPL [Florida Power and Light].” Ironically, Edgar was originally a champion of net metering at the beginning of her time as a Commissioner. She praised the policy in 2011, stating that “the benefits of solar energy… reach far beyond [the] rooftop, sending renewable energy back to the electric grid and decreasing the utility’s need for fossil fuels.”

Energy Fairness was formerly known as the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) and has a long history of pushing investor-owned utility agendas around the country. Energy Fairness board member Harry Alford is an outspoken supporter of “clean coal” and is the President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and a former board member of the US Chamber of Commerce, both long-time allies of the fossil fuel and utility industries. Energy Fairness is also an “official partner” with the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), another utility front group whose members include AIF, the Florida Chamber of Commerce (which has received $287,000 from utilities this cycle), and Florida utilities, although the utility names have been removed from CEA’s current website. CEA also supported the Florida utility-funded anti-solar effort in 2016, repeating many of the talking points used in Energy Fairness’s latest attack on net metering. 

In addition to providing the anti-solar document to McClure, one of Energy Fairness’ lobbying firms, McGuire Woods, maxed out donations to McClure directly in both 2018 and 2019.

McClure is supported by friends of Florida utilities, including their lobbying firms

McClure’s political career has been largely funded by Richard Corcoran, the former Florida Speaker of the House and current Education Commissioner, and his associates. 

Richard Corcoran and his allies have close utility ties. Last election cycle, Corcoran’s political committee “Watchdog PAC” received $1 million in contributions from utility-related PACs, as reported by the Energy and Policy Institute in 2018. The PAC has not received any contributions so far this cycle, but has reported over $115,000 in expenditures, including $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. Richard Corocoran’s brother, Mike Corcoran, donated $1,000 to McClure directly and $5,000 to McClure’s PAC in 2019. This year, Mike Corcoran donated another $5,000 to McClure’s PAC via Corcoran’s PAC “Building a Better Florida.” Mike Corcoran is the Founding Partner and CEO of the Tallahassee lobbying group, Corcoran Partners, one of TECO’s primary lobbying firms. Of the eight other firms registered to lobby for TECO, five contributed directly to McClure. Firms registered to lobby for Gulf Power and Florida Power & Light also contributed to McClure.

During McClure’s first election in 2017, there appeared to be a “concerted effort” by Corcoran and his political allies to help McClure secure the seat, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. Campaign finance reports showed “maximum $1,000 contributions from political allies, clients, employees and committees associated with Corcoran’s brother, lobbyist Mike Corcoran, as well as Reps. Carlos Trujillo of Miami and Jamie Grant of Tampa; former Rep. Jose Felix Diaz; and other politically connected lobbying firms.”

McClure has not fulfilled further public records requests

EPI requested records in July from McClure’s office for the utility data referenced in his letter to the PSC, in accordance with Florida’s Sunshine Law. McClure has yet to respond to that request, other than to assure EPI that his office was “working on the request” via a phone call on September 2. When asked for comment on campaign contributions and Energy Fairness, McClure did not respond.

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Posted by Alissa Schafer

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  1. […] A Florida legislator’s push to review the state’s solar net metering rules follows direct communication with utilities and more than $20,000 in campaign contributions, a watchdog group reports. (Energy & Policy […]

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