A new front group, Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy (FARE), launched a campaign on February 26, 2019, to block a Constitutional amendment aimed at breaking up Florida’s investor-owned utilities, such as Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy. FARE is positioning itself as a liberal voice urging voters to stick with the current regulatory scheme dominated by monopoly electric utilities.
Last week, Florida Politics published an article detailing the new group and its opposition to a constitutional amendment that would open up the electricity market in Florida, allowing companies other than utilities to generate and sell electricity. The amendment would be on the ballot in 2020 if it qualifies.
FARE board member Joe Gibbons said, “When it comes to Florida’s energy market, ‘choice’ is being used by the big players as an opportunity to fool voters, so the existing structure is abandoned. Today’s regulated market ensures that any rate increases are approved by an accountable commission that oversees the market.”
However, a 2017 Integrity Florida report found that the Florida Public Service Commission was a captured regulatory agency. Report lead author Ben Wilcox stated, “Investor-owned utilities regulated by the PSC have an extraordinary degree of influence on the Governor and the legislature and they have used that influence to pursue favorable decisions by the PSC, at the expense of the public.”
FARE Board Director Gibbons’ Questionable Ties
FARE board member Joe Gibbons has a record of lobbying for utility interests. A 2014 Broward Palm Beach New Times article outlined Gibbons’ work for Akerman LLP, a law firm with ties to Florida Power & Light. Gibbons earned $60,000 per year as a “public policy advisor” for Akerman.
Gibbons has also been involved with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL). In 2013, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the lobbying arm of investor owned utilities, gave $10,000 to the NBCSL, which is the required amount listed on the organization’s website to become a private sector member. In 2014, EEI again contributed $10,000. The NBCSL then produced a Gibbons-authored model resolution attacking net metering and distributed generation policies.
After a failed bid to become a Broward County Commissioner, Gibbons became the Chairman of the Energy Equity Alliance (EEA), which since 2014 has claimed to speak on behalf of minority and low income stakeholders about the policy issues at the intersection of energy, environment and social justice. In 2015, EEA was one of several groups claiming to represent low-income communities that contributed a token amount of money to the utility-backed Amendment 1 in Florida, a failed effort to deceive voters into passing an anti-solar ballot initiative in 2016.
Gibbons addressed state legislators at the 2017 National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women conference in Nashville, Tenn.
“I have friends that ask me, ‘Joe are you a lobbyist?’ I said, ‘No. I’m in the education business.’ And the education business means that if in fact I educate you properly, you’ll know how to vote. No good lobbyist does not educate. So I’m in the education business.”
After attacking net metering and other rooftop solar enabling policies as inequitable, Gibbons went on to encourage legislators to instead work with utilities.
“Now as some of you know, we’ve been battling solar policy,” Gibbons said. “I know when I was at NBCSL [the National Black Caucus of State Legislators], I know that your organization we have done resolutions that talks about net metering. And what really, what that deals with is a transfer of costs from those who can afford solar panels to those you can’t afford solar panels.”
He also handed out materials from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), promoting its “smart cities” initiative and utility-owned solar power.
“A lot of us aren’t aware that our utilities are doing that. Again, 90 percent of the solar installation last year was through utility companies. Now some of you will say, ‘Oh we hate the utility companies.’ Well guess what? We can’t afford to hate anybody. […] How many of you, besides getting checks, talk to your local utilities about programs they have going on”? Gibbons ended his speech with with a call to attendees to, “Make sure you get a copy of it [the handout from EEI].”
Gibbons’ wife, Ava Parker, was the “executive director” of the Emerging Issues Policy Forum (EIPF), which organized luxurious private events at which lawmakers, utility regulators, and utility industry executives spoke candidly and advocated for their interests away from the public eye.
FPL and Duke Allies Line Up Against Energy Choice
The energy choice constitutional amendment drew immediate criticism from Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, two groups with deep financial ties to Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy. In the 2018 election cycle, FPL and Duke contributed more than $700,000 to the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC and more than $5 million to Associated Industries of Florida-related PACs. The Florida Chamber of Commerce board of directors is rife with representatives from FPL and Duke.
AIF and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have a long history of fighting for the interests of their contributing utility company members. In 2017, both groups fought to pass Amendment 1, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. The Energy and Policy Institute reported on utility-funded efforts to stop the growth of solar in Florida, including an audio recording detailing their plans to confuse voters.
Energy Fairness, formerly known as the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, also jumped on the pro-monopoly bandwagon. Mike Nasi, a lawyer representing Energy Fairness, boldly claimed that transmission and distribution costs have doubled in Texas while market volatility has boomed due to that state’s retail choice policies. A recent article in the Huffington Post exposed Nasi as a “critic of EPA regulations who represents coal and mining interests” and “head of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered PR campaign, which promotes fossil fuels and downplays renewable energy”. Energy Fairness is a dark money group with a long history of advocating for fossil fuel and utility interests.
Florida’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, came out firmly against the ballot initiative after accepting $30,000 from TECO and $7,500 from Gulf Power, the Miami Herald reported. The article notes that “her committee also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs that are funded by utilities”.
According to a filing with the Florida Department of State, FARE incorporated as “Floridians for Reliable Energy” on January 29th, just days after a Miami Herald article outlined the energy choice proposal and outlined the potential threat to the monopoly business model used by incumbent utilities. A week later on February 7th, the group filed an amendment to add “Affordable” to its name.
Photo source: YouTube