Update: On December 4, 2017, Ritch Workman resigned after Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto issued a statement in which she said Workman approached her from behind and “pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures.” The PSC nominating council now must reconvene to accept applicants to fill the Workman vacancy.
Governor Rick Scott’s latest pick for the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is David Richard Workman, a former state legislator who blocked an effort to make it easier for businesses to install solar panels and has been critical of the technology.
In 2014, Workman, a Republican representative who was chair of the House Finance and Tax Committee, did not allow a vote to be taken that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot for voters to decide if businesses that install solar panels should be given a tax exemption on that equipment. His decision landed him on a national list of the “7 worst right-wing moments of the week”.
Solar advocates criticized Workman as being anti-solar and directed by the state’s monopoly utilities, a characterization Workman rejected.
“I just don’t see the need to continue to expand the incentives and underwriting of solar,” Workman said.
Workman further added that he loves solar and has a solar panel on his RV, and he blocked the initiative to shorten voting lines on election day.
A few months later, during an interview with Florida Today, Workman again called the criticism unfair and blamed the solar industry and their “corrupt” lobbying, though strangely his complaint was that companies did not lobby hard enough for the bill to be heard in his committee.
To summarize, Workman stated that the reasons for the solar legislation not advancing out of his committee that year were:
- He didn’t want to “underwrite” solar power. [The effort in question was simply aimed at avoiding new taxes on the solar equipment, and was not a subsidy.]
- He didn’t want long lines at the polls during an election year
- No one showed up to lobby him to get the bill heard
The property tax relief issue for businesses eventually made it on the ballot. In August 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4 – it passed with 73% of voters’ support. Gov. Scott signed the legislation into law in 2017. Workman delayed that outcome by two years.
Workman partied with Duke Energy lobbyist after 2014 solar debate
Workman’s complaints that solar industry lobbyists did not push aggressively enough for the legislation did not seem to extend to utility industry lobbyists. The same month that Workman blocked the pro-solar legislation in his committee, he posed for photos, obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, at a Darius Rucker concert with a Duke Energy lobbyist.
Andreina Figueroa, the utility company’s lobbyist, posted the pictures to her Facebook account of her and Workman hugging at the April 25, 2014 concert with the caption: “This is how much country I am going to get! With my photo bomber Ritch Workman. #dariusrucker thanks #dukeenergy”.
Figueroa had disclosed that Duke Energy had become her client the previous month, on March 24. She was also a registered lobbyist for the utility the previous year.
Over the course of his career, Workman has received $1,500 in contributions from Duke Energy, $1,500 from Gulf Power, $2,000 from NextEra, which owns Florida Power & Light, $2,500 from and TECO. Florida Power & Light contributed $5,000 to Workman’s Political Action Committee.
Workman’s employer, Keiser University, did not make him available for comment or provide his contact information.
Workman continues solar skepticism, gas boosting today
During Workman’s interview with the Florida PSC Nominating Committee (3:04:19 in the interview), the former lawmaker was asked what he thinks are some of the challenges Florida faces.
Workman responded by saying, “The one that is going to cause the biggest heartburn because it’s not only an energy issue but is almost a social issue now is renewables … as solar becomes more and more cost-effective you see the companies moving more and more to it. FPL is growing their solar network daily. But you have to make sure you balance the need to move to renewable energy, which we do, making sure that the ratepayers aren’t overly burdened because it feels good to move to renewables.”
Workman provided no evidence that solar would “overly burden” ratepayers.
Workman was also asked during the interview to respond to the criticism he faced in 2014. He said the criticism was “unfounded” and that while he loves renewable energy, he does not want to have ratepayers “unduly burdened because something sounds good … clean natural gas is a whole lot better than where we were years ago.” (In 2016, Workman voted for legislation to authorize and regulate fracking in the state.)
Workman’s positions on solar and his support for “clean natural gas” comes at a time when the state and its customers are significantly dependent on the fossil fuel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Since the beginning of 2016, Florida has added 3.4 gigawatts (GW) of natural gas-fired electricity generating capacity, which is more than any other state. Another 3.9 GW of natural gas-fired capacity is planned to come online in Florida over the next six years, based on data reported to EIA by project developers.”
A Union of Concerned Scientists report, “The Natural Gas Gamble,” calls for regulators and lawmakers to weigh the rewards of currently cheap natural gas carefully against the risks associated with gas, specifically its historical and continued price volatility. The authors write that “upward pressure on prices is likely to result from increases in demand for natural gas for electricity and other competing uses—including home heating, industrial production, and transportation.” The report further finds that these investments in gas, which forces ratepayers to be on the hook to pay for the gas investments for decades, could become stranded assets.
Workman appointed as public questions PSC’s independence from utilities
It is unclear why Scott selected Workman for one of the two expiring commission seats come January (a four-year term), even though the nominating council specifically nominated Workman for the unexpired term vacancy, which was the commission seat held by Jimmy Patronis.
In fact, this question was raised by nominating council member Senator Passidomo (3:10:43 in the interview). Sen. Passidomo asked the chair of the council, Senator Mike La Rosa, if the council could nominate applicants that applied for the unexpired term position to fill the positions that expire in January. Sen. La Rosa deferred to council staff and a staff member can be overheard telling the members, “no … they did not apply for that position.” Sen. La Rosa then said, “They did not apply for that position.”
Allison Deison, general counsel for the Office of Legislative Services, confirmed to the Energy and Policy Institute that Workman applied for the unexpired term vacancy.
Scott nominated Gary Clark, a deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to immediately fill the vacant seat. Workman will be replacing Ronald Brisé on the PSC.
Scott’s decision on September 15 was issued without any comments and his office did not respond to Energy and Policy Institute’s questions.
His decision to appoint Workman comes at a time when customers are questioning whether the Public Service Commission is providing enough oversight over Florida’s powerful utilities, and whether the utility companies could have done more over the years to respond quicker to the power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, particularly by better integrating distributed generation, batteries and microgrids. A class-action suit has already been filed against FPL for inadequate preparation.
Several articles have highlighted how customers and schools that housed evacuees installed solar and battery backup systems.
Workman was forced to leave the Florida House because of term limits and then lost a Senate Republican primary race in August 2016. Nancy Smith, executive editor of Sunshine State News, points out that Workman was the governor’s ally when he oversaw the House version of a $500 million cut to taxes and fees in 2014.
Scott’s appointments to the PSC are subject to confirmation by the Senate. The salary of PSC commissioners is about $131,000.
Workman’s PAC: Citizens United For Liberty And Freedom
Received $5,000 from FPL, 2/12/2015
Received $1,500 from Duke (2013, 2015, 2016).
Received $2,000 from NextEra (2011, 2013, 2014)
Received $1,500 from Gulf Power (2008, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015)
Received $2,500 from TECO (2008, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013)