• Changes needed to make Florida utility companies accountable, research group says

    By: Chris Heath

    Updated:

    The nonpartisan research group “Integrity Florida” is pushing the state to make changes to the commission that oversees the state’s largest utilities.

    Since 1978, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has been a five-member appointed board, with members appointed by the governor.  

    The PSC, among other things, regulates utilities and approves rates.

    Now, a new report by Integrity Florida says the PSC has become a “captured” regulatory agency, having found that “investor-owned utilities make significant campaign contributions in Florida legislative races and have a formidable lobbying presence.”

    According to records from the Florida Division of Elections, the state’s major investor-owned utilities (Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power) have given more than $23 million to the governor, state legislature and the Florida Republican and Democratic parties since 1996.

    Integrity Florida officials say the influence of campaign contributions poses a potential problem, saying that “the process for selection of PSC commissioners should be insulated from politics and lobbying.”

    Of its recommendations, Integrity Florida says the state should “return the Public Service Commission to an elected body or a mix of elected and appointed members, consider prohibiting candidates for the commission from accepting campaign contributions from interests whose businesses are regulated by the PSC and broaden membership on the Public Service Commission Nominating Counsel to include, at minimum, consumer groups.” 

    Florida is what is known as a “regulated monopoly,” where companies are given monopolies in specific areas in exchange for oversight from the state.  

    For most of its existence, the PSC has been an elected 30-member board; however, in 1978, the PSC was changed to a five-member appointed board in an effort to get politics out of the process.

    Integrity Florida officials say it is time to consider giving voters a say in the group overseeing its utility rates. 

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