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2020

Supreme Court tosses energy deregulation amendment off 2020 ballot

‘Misleading,” Supremes said.

In a major setback for proponents of so-called “energy choice,” a controversial citizens’ initiative was thrown off the 2020 ballot in a unanimous decision by The Florida Supreme Court.

In an 11-page written opinion, the Court took issue with the initiative, dubbed “Right to Competitive Energy Market for Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities; Allowing Energy Choice,” saying it should not be on the ballot.

This was the latest, likely ultimate, setback for the movement.

The ruling from the state’s highest court: “the ballot summary affirmatively misleads voters to believe the Initiative grants a right to sell electricity.”

While the court added that the amendment would grant “several rights, such as the right to purchase electricity from a provider of one’s choice, the right to purchase electricity in competitive wholesale and retail markets, the right to generate electricity oneself or in combination with others,” it does not offer what the court called a “freestanding constitutional 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 opinion adds.

The adverse ruling offers legal backup for positions taken by interest groups across the spectrum during the petition drive.

Business groups, namely the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida, decried the false promise of the ballot language.

The Chamber also conducted a financial impact study and found the proposed changes to Florida’s electricity market would have the “very damaging financial impact on state and local governments of more than $1.2 billion per year in increased costs and reduced revenues.”

The Urban League and the League of Cities offered their own objections. As did Attorney General Ashley Moody, who petitioned the court in March to offer an opinion.

The Supreme Court, asserting jurisdiction, sided with those opponents of the proposal, a move lauded as a victory in post-ruling comments by opponents on Thursday.

“This is a great win for Florida’s competitiveness,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber. “We cannot secure Florida’s future with regulatory policies that will make our state less competitive and electricity more expensive.”

AIF CEO Tom Feeney also issued a statement celebrating the ruling.

“AIF applauds the Florida Supreme Court for recognizing the proposed ballot initiative that sought to deregulate Florida’s utility industry did not meet the required criteria to be placed on the ballot,” Feeney said.

“Florida’s residential, business and industrial electricity users already pay lower rates than the national average and lower than states with deregulated electricity. Thanks to today’s ruling, Florida’s consumers and businesses can continue to rely on our electricity system that helps drive Florida’s economy.”

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Since the initial proposal of this radical energy deregulation amendment, Florida TaxWatch has been clear that this is bad policy for Florida taxpayers.”

“Florida TaxWatch’s thorough February 2019 report, Analyzing the Fiscal Impact of the Energy Deregulation Constitutional Amendment, on the deconstruction of Florida’s electricity market called for by this proposed amendment shows that such action would produce devastating state and local revenue losses as high as $1.3 billion by 2026. Taxpayers across the Sunshine State who already enjoy electricity costs substantially below the U.S. average cannot afford this amendment. Florida TaxWatch is pleased that following the Court’s decision today, this initiative will not appear on the 2020 ballot,” Calabro added.

The ruling thwarts a movement that had the money and momentum, perhaps, to at least make the ballot otherwise.

The group behind this movement, Citizens for Energy Choice, raised nearly $6 million through November. At least $5.5 million of that had been spent so far. The primary funding for the effort is Coalition for Energy Choice, with Infinite Energy offering staff help.

The initiative was close to getting the requisite 766,200 signatures for ballot access, collecting nearly 645,000. However, the Supreme Court did not sign off, and the justices proved to have the dispositive word.

Disappointment suffused a statement from the group.

“The committee obviously sought a different outcome, but we respect the rule of law” said CFEC Chair Alex Patton.

“Sadly, Florida’s ratepayers lose again,” said Rich Blaser, co-CEO of Infinite Energy and major funder CEC.

Had it passed, the proposal would have amended the state constitution to allow customers to choose their electricity providers.

IOUs (investor-owned utilities) would have been out of the game, restricted to maintaining and building transmission systems. In that context, private companies such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co. would see a significant revenue stream dry up.

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Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
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