Why we should oppose these legislative power grabs by Florida’s big utilities

Utility lobbyists are pushing flawed bills, and Florida legislators should vote no

Big utility corporations are making moves in the state Legislature to hobble local power companies, and if these measures pass, consumers will be worse off.

At first glance, SB 1380/HB 1331 may seem like a good idea — it mandates that municipal utilities would have their rates set by the Florida Public Service Commission. But what might look good on paper has the potential to shutter local utilities, hike customer bills, and wipe out local decision making.

Florida has 32 municipal electric utilities, including in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, Lakeland, and Gainesville. As it stands now, the Florida Public Service Commission does oversee some aspects of municipal utilities, but it does not regulate their customer rates. The Public Service Commission oversees municipal utilities’ storm-system hardening and what is known as “rate structure” — the way rates are apportioned between different groups of customers, such as residential and commercial.

But now the large, corporate utilities want to add more burden to the local power companies. The big utilities know that it costs millions to put up a rate case before the Public Service Commission, and they know that it’s far beyond the budgets of most municipal utilities.

Their real aim is to weaken local power companies so that city and county commissioners would be forced to sell to the big utilities. One case in the Panhandle — involving a regional, not municipal utility — provides a clue about how corporate takeovers could play out for electricity customers. Florida Power & Light bought the regional utility Gulf Power, and rates for consumers in Northwest Florida went way up.

Customers of the big utilities end up paying higher bills while the corporations write blank checks for expensive infrastructure projects that increase the company’s profits but don’t benefit consumers directly. And once a customer loses their municipal utility, forget about local accountability.

Another measure pushed by the big utilities, SB 1162/HB 821, would decrease review for questionable new natural gas and hydrogen infrastructure projects. Some of these projects — while they might sound good — actually prove to be inefficient and wasteful. It’s another way to inflate customer bills and stuff ever-higher profits into corporate pockets.

To protect consumers, these bad bills should be voted down. Florida needs to invest in what we know works to help regular working people — true renewable energy and strong standards to make our power grid, businesses, and homes more efficient.

Bradley is a senior attorney with the Florida regional office in Tallahassee.

The Florida regional office wields the power of the law to protect our waterways and biodiversity, promote a just and reliable transition to clean energy, and defend communities disproportionately burdened by pollution.