Group opposing proposed ‘energy choice’ amendment makes their case on eve of FL Supreme Court review

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The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday will review a proposed 2020 ballot initiative that would revamp Florida’s electric utility industry.

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

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

Tuesday, a shadowy opposition group called Floridians for Affordable Reliable Energy (FARE), held a press conference to show the results of an online poll that they say shows that the more Floridians know about the measure, the more they dislike it.

The online survey of 1,344 Floridians showed that after voters read the ballot language, it generated 40 percent support, 18 percent opposed and 38 percent not sure.

But after being informed that their electricity rates would go up and that it would prohibit Florida’s major utilities from continuing to sell electricity (which is not clear the ballot initiative would do), opposition went up to 62 percent, with only 31 percent supporting it.

Alex Patton is a spokesman for the group backing the ballot initiative, Citizens for Energy Choice, and he says his organization’s own internal polling shows a much different result.

“Normally, I wouldn’t comment on push polls from pollsters with a website under construction, but in this case, it is clear FARE is engaged in an attempt to manipulate public opinion by cherry picking and structuring a poll with a predetermined outcome in mind,” he charged.

At the  press conference, Joe Gibbons, a former Democratic legislator from Broward County and a member of FARE, speculated about what would happen in Florida if the amendment were to pass next year, starting with the elimination of the state’s utility regulator, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC).

But Patton told the Phoenix earlier this year that claim is inaccurate, saying that the PSC would still be very involved in policing rates and other aspects of the energy industry.

There is a lot of opposition to the proposed amendment. FARE showed a letter signed by 24 members of the Florida congressional delegation – 12 Republicans and 12 Democrats – who recently co-signed a letter to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody opposing the measure.

Other members of FARE who joined Gibbons in making the case against the energy choice amendment included former Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux and longtime lobbyist JB Clark.

FARE is a 501(c)4 nonprofit group, which means it is not required to disclose donors (as is the case with Citizens for Energy Choice). When asked how much the public utilities were funding their effort, the members of FARE did not answer.

“We’ve got friends in labor. We’ve got friends in non-profits, and individuals. That’s who’s funding us,” said Arceneaux.

The Energy Choice amendment still has a substantial way to go before it gets approved to be on the 2020 ballot. It must survive the review of the Florida Supreme Court, and still must get 788,000 signatures by February 1 to qualify for the ballot (It currently has 402,961).


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