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Battle begins over ‘energy choice amendment’

Supporters believe electricity customers will save from competition; opponents say the opposite.

The state’s revenue forecasters sounded skeptical of a proposed constitutional amendment to promote competition in the electricity market as business group representatives said the proposal will actually cost consumers more.

“The outcome will not be positive,” said French Brown, a Dean Mead attorney representing the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Brown spoke at a Monday workshop of the Financial Impact Estimating Conference in The Capitol.

They are considering an amendment for the 2020 ballot titled, “Right to Competitive Energy Market for Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities; Allowing Energy Choice.” All amendments need 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Pushed as a consumer choice initiative, the amendment’s passage would benefit newer, start-up energy companies while chipping away at traditional investor-owned utilities such as Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida.

Infinite Energy co-founder Rich Blaser, who supports the amendment, told the panel Florida needs to “break up state-sponsored monopolies.” His company now only provides natural gas service in Florida, according to its website.

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Competition will promote more renewable energy, or ‘green power,’ he said, and ultimately — as in already-deregulated Texas — save the state’s ratepayers billions of dollars.

But chief legislative economist Amy Baker — noting that Texas-style deregulation was in state law, not in that state’s constitution — questioned who’s responsible if competition doesn’t happen.

She mused whether the state itself, to safeguard what would be a constitutional right, would have to go into the electricity business itself, as it did with homeowners’ coverage when Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was created.

“… I’m happy to do more research but that’s just something we haven’t seen” elsewhere, he said.

She also questioned who would manage the power grid. Blaser said a nonprofit concern does so in Texas, but Baker raised a concern that an out-of-state entity could be in control of Florida’s electric supply.

Brown noted that the measure failed to win favor at the 2017-18 Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes once every 20 years to consider changes to the state’s governing document.

“There’s no need to create such uncertainty,” he said, mentioning the potential utility tax hits to the state and localities.

Brewster BevisAssociated Industries of Florida‘s Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs, told the panel the amendment was “the wrong answer” for all of Florida’s electric customers, industrial and residential alike.

The regulation of power is actually a good thing, he said, for pricing, safety and reliability.

And Florida economist and financial advisor Hank Fishkind, working on behalf of AIF, said the kind of competition the amendment proposes “doesn’t make sense … we’re not there yet.”

Fishkind, a former University of Florida economics professor, previously weighed in on last year’s successful initiative to ban live dog racing, saying then that “claims that Amendment 13 would cause economic harm are incorrect and not supportable.”

The conference will eventually determine the energy choice amendment’s impact on state revenues. Meantime, the proposal still needs a total of 766,200 to get on the ballot; at last tally, it had nearly 82,000 valid signatures.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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