Published On: Fri, Sep 22nd, 2017

The evil monopoly. No power to the people

By Carlo Barbieri

As harried Floridians prepared for the arrival of “catastrophic” Hurricane Irma not long ago, their minds were filled with survival pointers: Get the water, get the bread, buy gas, check the generator, put up the hurricane shutters, get the propane…” and so on.

It’s doubtful that anyone took a moment to recall Election Day 2016. Yes, it was the day Donald Trump was elected president.  But it was also the day an issue of great importance to Floridians and to their ability to have access to alternative sources of electrical power was decided.

And it was not decided in favor of what the people wanted. As a result, Florida Power & Light remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to delivering electricity how and when they want – pretty much at the price they want.

At hurricane time, FPL is good for putting on darn good pretenses and commercials showing them bringing in vast numbers of utility trucks and tree cutting machines. Clearly, it gives the impression that they will be putting everyone’s lights back on as quickly as possible after Irma exits the Sunshine State.

Those power restoration results this year were so-so – not a whole lot better than after Jeanne or Frances. The work was largely on a par with the post-Wilma fixup, which dealt with a storm that blasted the heck out of Palm Beach County.

During the post-Irma cleanup, we saw that a lot of homes and companies were are on the list marked “with energy.”  In truth, many had only one phase running, which prevented the operation of air-conditioning, thus forcing many people to live without their two main Florida necessities – electricity and the cool, blast of A/C which, in summer, is the only thing that makes homes and offices in this area bearable.

Let’s think back for a moment to the 2016 election ballot. Question 1, the Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative, would, if approved, have supported the addition of a section to the state constitution giving residents of Florida the right to own or lease solar energy equipment for personal use. It would also have enacted constitutional protection for any state or local law, ensuring that residents who did not produce solar energy could abstain from subsidizing its production.

A vote against Amendment 1 opposed constitutionalizing the right to own or lease solar equipment and the protection of laws preventing subsidization of solar energy. It left the personal use of solar power to the whims of state statute and not the constitution.

As it turned out, 4,544,601 voters said “yes” to the bill and 4,406,583 voted “no.”  The “catch” was that since the question involved a constitutional amendment, it had to pass by a “supermajority” vote of 60 percent. The “yes” tally was just over 50 percent.

The League of Women Voters offered some sage observations. They said utility companies funded Amendment 1 to protect their monopolies and limit customer-owned solar. Since the effort failed, the league feels it is now harder to get affordable solar power on the free market in Florida.

So, let’s now travel back to early September, with Irma charging like a wrong-headed she-cow west-northwest across the Caribbean, stomping everything in her sight. Wavering, just to give meteorologists fits, the storm swung in through the Keys, nudged a little left toward Marco Island, then headed north with fierce grit still in her “eye.”

As Irma bade farewell, Florida companies struggled to get their businesses up and running again. Yet managers and executives had to make do without power for many days. That left workers who were willing and able to return to work with no work to return to. Precious hours of employment time were lost and employees confined to their hot, dark houses worried about the impact of such an atmosphere on their health and that of their families, particularly children and even pets.

FPL solved the “necessary” problems just to make an appearance of being “efficient.” And to support that apparent level of efficiency, they left well-educated and prepared people to answer the complaints, informing grumblers that the lack of electricity would all be resolved in a short time.

In this way, the electric company passed from day to day, offering no specific solutions, but lots of promises. And set against Caribbean islands that were torn asunder and left without food, power, communications, water or roads, we Floridians felt lucky to be alive and have our power grid intact, even though it still needed some work to be fully functional.

In retrospect, it appears the vote on access to alternative forms of electricity last year was so much phony baloney. The point was to erect obstacles to the alternative energy that the public wants – and needs.

Thus, FPL remains in control of the generation of energy – which translates to control of prices and control of profit margins.

Less developed countries than the U.S. have a “clearinghouse” for whomever wants to create energy and sell it to potential buyers at the most competitive prices.

Knowing Governor Rick Scott’s willingness to make Florida an increasingly competitive and business friendly state, I am sure that this theme does not go unnoticed.

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