FL Supreme Court tosses electric utility deregulation proposal off the 2020 ballot

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The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that sought to deregulate Florida’s electric utility market, saying the ballot summary would be misleading to voters.

The unanimous decision from the state’s highest court removes the measure from the 2020 general election ballot.

The proposal, sponsored by the group Citizens for Energy Choice, called for Florida to deregulate wholesale and retail electricity markets to give customers “meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers.”

The organization touted deregulation of the energy markets in Texas two decades ago as the model for what the group is trying to do in Florida.

The measure was fiercely opposed by much of the Florida political and business establishment, led by major utilities like Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy.

In its ruling, the state Supreme Court found the proposal was legally flawed because the ballot summary “affirmatively misleads voters to believe the Initiative grants a right to sell electricity.”

“The question is not whether a person has the right to sell electricity if the initiative is adopted, but whether, as the ballot summary claims, the initiative grants that right. It does not, and the ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading,” the court said.

The court noted the Citizens for Energy Choice group argued that the ballot summary was accurate because the initiative “implies a right to sell electricity.”

“We do not find any such implicit right in the proposed amendment,” the court said. “The ballot summary expressly states that the initiative grants the right to sell electricity, and the initiative does not do so.

Citizens for Energy Choice supporters said they were disappointed by the court ruling.

“Sadly, Florida’s ratepayers lose again,” Rich Blaser, a top executive for Infinite Energy and a major financial supporter of the ballot initiative, said in a statement. “Polls showed 80 percent of us wanted to take control of our energy spending, usage, generation, and to free alternative energy from the anticompetitive control of monopoly utilities.”

Alex Patton, a Gainesville consultant who was leading the initiative drive, said the group would reassess its efforts in the wake of the court decision.

“As to what is next, it is too soon to speculate.  We will review the data, seek legal advice, and regroup after a detailed post-mortem,” Patton said in a statement.

The court ruling was a victory for the major utility companies and their supporters.

“Florida’s residential, business and industrial electricity users already pay lower rates than the national average and lower than states with deregulated electricity,” said a statement from Associated Industries of Florida, a major business lobbying group.

“Thanks to today’s ruling, Florida’s consumers and businesses can continue to rely on our electricity system that helps drive Florida’s economy,” the group said.

The Florida Phoenix previously reported on the ballot measure in this story.