Supreme Court tosses energy deregulation amendment off 2020 ballot

energy costs 2
'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.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


3 comments

  • Christopher Kennard

    January 9, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    These kinds of decisions from the Florida State Supreme Court against the interests of the people of Florida are likely to continue in number and scope of shredding the rights of American citizens to support the more corrupt elements of the 1% mega-wealthy so-called “elite class”.

    In this particular instance, it is the fossil fuel and energy corporate stockowners whose profits matter far more to them on the short term than the worsening levels of air, land and water pollution that speeds our scary climate changes that threaten not only our environment but the ability of our children and grandchildren to survive on Earth in the next 50 years.

    If we fail to make changes now, not later, in the choices of energy production, aircraft, motor vehicle and industrial fuels manufacturing and other forms of misuse and abuse of nature . . . like petroleum oil production and uses, pesticide and herbicide use, or by continuing to cut down all of our trees to provide paper, construction materials and other products that could be made from hemp and other available resources without depleting the world’s forests . . . then we have failed to provide a viable, sustainable future for all of humanity on Earth.

    • James

      January 16, 2020 at 6:57 pm

      You are obviously Ill informed and have no idea what you’re talking about. This bill would be a step back into achieving more sustainable energy. The majority of power supplied to Florida by FP&L is through nuclear and solar. FP&L has one of the lowest carbon footprints and cost per KW in the country! If Florida was to deregulate, outside interest would build these “cookie cutter” gas plants that are much more dangerous to the environment and manipulate the energy market to raise prices and leave Florida with higher bills and more pollutant energy. Please learn your facts before writing such comments. I care very much about our planet and it’s future and people like you that write these Uneducated comments are a dangerous step back towards the movement.

  • EDWARD MOBSBY, JR

    January 9, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    If this so-called “consumer rights” amendment had made it to the ballot box and passed, the Florida consumers would have been the victim of yet another scam from outside interests. The only winners would be the company (outside of Florida) that would have raked in the money which would be stolen from the pockets of the average Florida electricity consumer. This con was no more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If this amendment raises its ugly head again, cut it off quickly because it will surely bite all of our Floridians.

Comments are closed.


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