In the midst of Florida Power & Light’s push to dismantle a key rooftop solar policy in the state, new documents reveal that senior executives at the utility are closely connected to an ongoing election scandal and subsequent investigations, having personally coordinated with the consultants who moved millions of dollars to promote three “spoiler” candidates in 2020 state senate races.
With the Florida state senate hanging in the balance in the 2020 election, a network of dark-money groups engineered a brazen scheme to siphon votes from Democrats to third-party “ghost candidates” in three of Florida’s legislative elections, all of which were won by Republicans, two by razor-thin margins. The state senate districts were 9, 37, and 39.
Research and documents obtained and published by Orlando Sentinel reporters reveal that senior officials at Florida Power & Light (FPL), the largest electric utility in Florida, provided funding to the organization and consultants who engineered the spoiler candidates. FPL CEO Eric Silagy appears to have personally directed money to the web of dark money groups, with records showing correspondence from Silagy to the consultants directly.
A dark money non-profit called “Grow United” is at the center of the scandal, with records showing direct communication with and invoices to FPL. Consultants who control Grow United billed FPL for over $3 million before the entity started moving funds around for the election scheme. That scheme included over half a million dollars spent on political mailers promoting the spoiler candidates. All three districts received slightly modified versions of the same mailer, which seemed to target liberal-leaning voters in an apparent effort to siphon those votes away from the Democratic candidate.
FPL spokespeople denied that FPL had any role in the spoiler candidate scheme in a comment to the Sentinel.
FPL has for decades spent millions on lobbying and election influence at every level of politics in Florida, giving it and its parent company, NextEra Energy, immense influence over the state’s politicians. That political power has helped FPL to secure a return on equity of 10.6% in the latest rate increases that it secured from regulators – much higher than the national average for utilities.
It’s not clear yet whether law enforcement officials are investigating FPL or its executives for their involvement in the “ghost candidate” scheme, though the scandal has already resulted in criminal charges for some of its parties. According to reporting from the Orlando Sentinel, a “broad” criminal investigation is underway in Miami, with felony charges against former Senator Frank Artiles, and the spoiler candidate in District 37 has pled guilty. Artiles has long-standing close connections with FPL, as previously reported by Energy and Policy Institute in 2020 and 2021.
There are two civil lawsuits in the mix as well. Alabama political firm and former NextEra consultant Matrix LLC, led by Joe Perkins, sued Canopy LLC, another firm allegedly working with NextEra. Canopy was started by former Matrix employees, led by Jeff Pitts. Canopy quickly filed its own lawsuit against Matrix.
Attack on Rooftop Solar
Republican state legislators Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Lawrence McClure have filed identical legislation in the Senate and House that would end the state’s current net metering policy, which determines the credit that FPL and other utilities must pay to solar customers for excess solar energy that they generate and sell back to the grid. The bill outlines a reduction to the credit, which would dramatically limit the number of people who could affordably lease or buy panels. Additionally, the bill limits any “grandfathering” into the current policy to ten years, while many systems in Florida are financed beyond that timeframe, which means that customers who bought solar panels under the current net metering policy would see the value of their investments sharply decrease. (Rooftop solar systems generally last for 25 years or longer.) The bill also creates a framework to add substantial fees to solar customers, charging them for an alleged “cost-shift” to non-solar customers. Numerous studies have shown that rooftop solar provides a net-benefit to other, non-solar customers.
The Florida Public Service Commission reaffirmed the state’s current net metering rule in 2019 after the utilities’ last effort to weaken it, calling it an “effective” way to promote solar in the net-metering workshop held at the request of McClure. The Office of Public Counsel, which advocates on behalf of Florida utility customers, also stated that it was a net benefit in that same workshop. Since then, the legislature replaced the previous leader of that office, J.R. Kelly, with a former utility lobbyist, Richard Gentry.
Bradley and McClure have both taken tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions from Florida’s investor-owned utilities. When McClure first introduced the concept of changing Florida’s net metering policy in 2019, he had already taken over $20,000 from investor-owned utilities. McClure also worked closely with utility front group Energy Fairness, as reported by the Energy and Policy Institute. Since the publication of that article, McClure has taken an additional $8,500 in political contributions from Florida investor-owned utilities; $1,000 from NextEra Energy to his campaign directly, and $7,500 from Duke Energy to McClure’s political committee, Conservative Florida.
Bradley has taken $52,500 from Florida investor-owned utilities, between her campaign account and her political committee. $5,000 from investor-owned utilities went to the campaign account directly: $1,000 from NextEra, $2,000 from Duke, and $2,000 from TECO. Bradley’s political committee, Women Building the Future, has taken $47,500 from investor-owned utilities, with $12,500 coming from NextEra Energy and $35,000 from TECO.
The Florida Legislative Session begins January 11, 2022.
Header Image Credit: FPL YouTube channel