Hey, you! Yeah, you, the one who didn’t vote in 2014. If you gag when you see your electric bill, wonder why the Sunshine State barely uses solar power, or frown at the idea of unidentified toxic chemicals being pumped into the ground under you…
Well hey, this is a story about why voting really does make a difference, and how it can matter so much in your everyday existence. So please, read on, and consider sharing with nonvoting friends.
For starters, congratulations are in order! OK, yeah, to you, for being willing to read on, but also because Florida’s going to be the first state in America to allow a giant energy monopoly — Florida Power & Light (FPL) — to charge customers for expansion of risk-laden hydraulic fracking activity (“the fracturing of rock or tight sand by hydraulic pressure, using a combination of water, sand and chemical additives”), thanks to Gov. Rick Scott and his hand-picked Public Service Commission (PSC).
That depends on your point of view.
The congratulations are for the Woohoo coalition, consisting of FPL and its stockholders; Gov. Scott and the mostly but not exclusively Republican legislators who’ve happily handed over responsibility for developing cost-effective, clean, safe, sustainable energy policies to FPL and other energy monopolies, apparently in exchange for many millions in campaign contributions, and the last remaining pretense of regulatory oversight of those monopolies, the PSC.
The stated mission of the commission is: “To facilitate the efficient provision of safe and reliable utility services at fair prices.” Its five members are all Scott appointees, including last summer’s fateful addition of former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis.
While in office, Patronis was widely known as bosom-buddy enabler of big-polluting Big Sugar, earning this condemnation from the Tampa Bay Times last September after his appointment to the commission: “No current legislator is more hostile to environmental regulation and friendlier to industry and agricultural interests. His legislative record suggests he will be just as friendly to utilities as a PSC member.” That record, and an early, enthusiastic 2010 endorsement of Scott’s first gubernatorial bid, won Patronis the cushy $131,000-a-year PSC gig.
Fast forward back to here and now and Thursday’s unanimous decision by Patronis and the other commissioners. As reported by the Miami Herald’s talented and tenacious Mary Ellen Klaas, it came despite strong opposition from both the PSC staff itself, and the Office of Public Counsel, the legal team that represents the public in utility rate increase cases.
To better understand the decision, let’s break it down. This very profitable, investor-owned utility is already allowed to take a guaranteed profit of 10.25 percent on its rates. Pretty good return. Now, instead of turning to stockholders and explaining how investing $500 million of company money in fracking research and development activity will bring big profits and returns later, FPL gets to charge my household and almost 5 million other energy slaves (OK, customers) a half-billion more every year to finance unregulated fracking projects nationwide.
And of course, they’ll take their 10.25 percent guaranteed additional profit out every year, too.
And, no, we customers will not share in the cash-money profits later.
Now folks, according to former Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano, the PSC has been a “corrupt” tool of the energy monopolies for years. But based on decisions like this one, it appears the situation may be going from bad to worse.
If that doesn’t make a light go on in your head, and worry you about keeping the ones in your house lit — then you must be part of the Woohoo coalition.
Daniel Tilson is a communications consultant and media producer specializing in online written and video content for nonprofits, small businesses, and political candidates/organizations/campaigns. You can follow him on Twitter @danieltilson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.