Fla. Lawmaker Wants Alternative Energy, Nuclear Fee Repeal On Ballot

Apr 23, 2014

Dudley speaks on the Historic Capitol steps on April 23, 2014.
Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU News

A state lawmaker whose energy policy proposals failed this year is hoping Floridians will get the chance to vote on them directly. Activists joined the representative Wednesday to push for constitutional amendments aimed at encouraging energy diversity and repealing a customer fee.

Florida for All, a progressive group partly funded by the Democratic Governors Association, held the press conference on the Historic Florida Capitol steps. At the event’s advertised time, three people had shown up: Rep. Dwight Dudley (D- St. Petersburg) and two sign-holding supporters.

One of them, Amy Datz, took the seconds just before the camera rolled to bend Dudley’s ear.

“I’m working on getting fracking moratorium for next session. You gonna help me out?” she said.

“Awesome,” Dudley replied. “Well, let’s talk.”

Moments later, Dudley got to the business at hand: talking about two bills he sponsored this session that would have put proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

First: a bill repealing utility companies’ ability to charge customers for future power plants. It’s the policy that allows Duke Energy to collect more than $1 billion for planned nuclear power plants it then scrapped.  

“The utility tax has been in place since 2006. The governor’s been in office for almost four years, said nothing, done nothing and apparently will do nothing regarding any help for consumers,” Dudley said.

Also in office since then was former Republican governor and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist—but his name didn’t come up.

Dudley’s fee repeal was never taken up in committee this year. But he says he looks forward to campaigners collecting enough Floridians’ signatures to get the measure on the ballot anyway.

“The beauty of constitutional amendments is you go around the elected body that isn’t helping,” he says.

Dudley says he hopes the same strategy will allow Floridians to vote on another of his failed bills: one allowing renewable and alternative energy providers to exist alongside large utility companies.

“We could have a renewable renaissance in this state if allowed to,” he says.

State law says no one except regulated utilities can charge for power. And Dudley questions whether state regulators and lawmakers are unbiased.

“Don’t keep taking money from the utilities,” he said, facing the governor’s office. “Help the consumers, help the ratepayers.”

A recent report by nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida showed the state’s four largest utility companies had contributed a combined $18 million to state-level political candidates over two election cycles. Integrity Florida’s Ben Wilcox says the companies spent an additional $12 million dollars on lobbyists over five years.

“I think that’s definitely on the high end,” he says. “That’s, on average, one lobbyist for every two state legislators. I think that could be characterized as an army of lobbyists.”

After the report was released, a Florida Power and Light spokesman retorted to the Miami Herald that Integrity Florida’s research was sponsored by the notoriously anti-utility-company Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Wilcox admits the alliance provided funding but says the money trail is backed up with public records.

“As far as the utility companies claiming that we were bought, they aren’t saying that anything in the report is not true or not factual, they’re just trying to attack the messenger,” he says.

And Dudley says the payoff for utility companies is a monopolistic hold on Florida’s energy—unless, he hopes, voters get other options at the ballot box.