Introducing bills written by gas companies, Florida Legislators passed new subsidies for methane gas in 2023 that will cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars. Under the banners of “renewable natural gas” (RNG) and “green hydrogen,” the bills outlined utility cost recovery and tax breaks on gas equipment, fuel, and infrastructure. Records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute show that at least two of the bills were written by Chesapeake, a gas company based in Maryland that currently serves about 87,000 gas customers in Florida through its subsidiary Florida Public Utilities. Chesapeake announced its first RNG project in Florida days before the Florida Legislature convened, in a project owned and operated by another Chesapeake subsidiary, FPU Renewables LLC. Chesapeake invited Florida lawmakers to the groundbreaking.
Other Florida investor-owned utilities also stood to benefit financially from the legislation. People’s Gas, a sister company of TECO which serves over 425,000 gas customers throughout the state, opened a landfill RNG facility in Florida earlier this year. Florida City Gas (FCG,), a sister company of Florida Power & Light (FPL) owned by NextEra Energy, serves approximately 110,000 gas customers throughout the state, and is actively growing its gas footprint. FCG is installing new gas pipelines around the state, including on a high hurricane risk barrier island, despite NextEra’s “RealZero” pledge to eliminate its carbon emissions. Methane gas emits carbon pollution when burned, and is a greenhouse gas “super-polluter” when it leaks.
FPL and NextEra are also making investments in hydrogen, breaking ground on a hydrogen facility that will mix “green hydrogen” with fossil gas in December 2022. “Green hydrogen” is hydrogen generated by the electrolysis of water, using renewable electricity as the energy source. NextEra has been lobbying for loose restrictions on billions of dollars in federal incentives for the further development of “green hydrogen” infrastructure. Independent analyses have shown that proposals supported by NextEra would lead to more emissions than a stricter requirement preferred by environmental advocates and many renewable energy companies that don’t also sell methane gas, as was adopted by the European Union.
Cost recovery legislation, a bill that would have incentivized the development of RNG and green hydrogen by allowing those additional costs to be added to monthly customer power bills through a streamlined process before state regulators, ultimately died in the final days on the House floor, despite overwhelming votes in support up to that point, while tax breaks on gas equipment and fuel were quietly added to a 100-plus page tax package.
The Florida Legislature also supported methane gas stoves in two separate ways. First, the legislature approved a gas stove tax break, including a sales tax exemption for gas stoves and ranges in the 2023 tax package. Second, Florida Legislators passed a law prohibiting any local government body throughout the state from phasing out gas appliances. The bill utilized broad language that banned the “restriction” or “the effect of restricting” of any appliance by local governments, by way of outlawing the “enacting or enforcement of any resolution, ordinance, rule, code, or policy.” Similar language was used in a 2021 preemption bill, CS/HS 919, which banned local governments from taking any action that could be seen as restricting the use of any type of fuel.
Fossil fuel interests and a new utility front group
2023’s bills to protect gas were pushed by the Florida Natural Gas Association (FNGA) and its new front group, “Save Our Stoves,” which pushed the gas stove preemption bill on its website and in social media advertisements. Code for the Save Our Stoves website revealed FNGA involvement in building the site, and the Facebook ad library documented that FNGA spent thousands of dollars on political ads pushing “save our stoves” messaging.
Days after the Energy and Policy Institute filed records requests on multiple gas bills, a Chesapeake lobbyist tweeted she was “honored” to work with Sen. Nick DiCeglie and Rep. Brad Yeager, Sen. Clay Yarborough, and Rep. Philip Griffitts on the cost recovery and tax break bills (SB 1162/HB 821 and SB 844.) The tweet also highlighted favorable coverage of RNG from Florida Politics, a blog and political advertising site that has been connected to ongoing election scandals run by FPL consultants through political firms Matrix and Canopy. Utilities frequently advertise on Schorsch’s site and a 2021 invoice showed that FPL paid Schorsch at least $43,000 for what it called “advertising.” Schorsch also admitted to being paid “roughly $100,000” by Apryl Marie Fogel, the publisher of Alabama Today, another political blog connected to FPL consultants at Matrix, as reported by NPR.
Chesapeake lobbying efforts in other states
The gas company political efforts mirror the lobbying and front group playbook that Chesapeake has utilized in other states. In 2022, Chesapeake helped launch a utility front group called the “Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Energy Solutions” to push back against a bill that would have banned methane gas in new residential and commercial construction starting in 2023. Records show Chesapeake lobbyist Brian Quinn pitched the front group to a Somerset County administrator as a “grassroots campaign” in direct opposition and response to Maryland’s SB 528/HB 831. Chesapeake also submitted formal opposition to the bill in a document that cites another utility front group, Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA.) The Maryland bill failed. CEA is also active in Florida, where FPL has been listed as a member. CEA was registered to lobby on the gas bills, and appeared in committee hearings in support of the Florida gas subsidies this session.
Header Image Credit: YouTube “FPL Cavendish NextGen Hydrogen Hub”