For many of us, the prospect of using energy is as simple as turning on a light switch. The way we grew up dealing with energy was direct: we contracted with a company which is often the only power producer and distributor in the state, and we pay the rates they set. It is one of the last government-controlled monopolies in the United States which impacts our day to day lives. Importantly, like some states, Florida is now taking steps towards energy deregulation, which would help increase consumer choice when buying power. Many may ask if you can choose which airline to fly, which vendor to purchase groceries from, and a litany of other consumer choices: why can’t you choose an energy company?
What does deregulation mean and what is its current status in Florida?
As of now, Florida Power and Light (FPL), is the only energy provider residents of the state are able to use. Unlike Florida, other states have allowed for power companies to come in to their state markets and charge competitive rates in order to provide the best deal possible to consumers. This also has the additional benefit of fostering competition in the market.
Across the country, many states have begun the process of deregulating. In some states, they have already implemented full deregulation. However, in other states, partial deregulation was achieved by allowing only the energy market or the gas market to be competitive. As deregulation is not yet legal in Florida, allowing for consumers to pick who they purchase power from is still seemingly a foreign concept, but one which will be decided in 2020.
Where is deregulation politically and legislatively?
Currently, supporters of a statewide ballot initiative are gathering signatures to help ensure it appears before Florida voters on their November 2020 general election ballot. They have until the February 1, 2020 deadline to gather and submit more than 766,000 valid signatures to meet the legal requirement for an amendment to the Florida constitution to be placed on the ballot.
In addition to these typical hurdles, deregulation has become a political flashpoint as the Florida Supreme Court has heard a challenge from Florida Attorney General on the ballot initiative’s language. She has argued that it is invalid under Florida’s single-subject rule, and that the language which will be placed on the ballot is misleading. Others such as FPL, Duke Energy, the Florida Public Service Commission, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, and many others have concurred with this interpretation or filed amicus briefs, (also known as friend of the court briefs) supporting this position. The Florida Supreme Court has not indicated when it will rule on this challenge.
Florida voters seem more optimistic on whether or not to support energy deregulation as an initial poll in June by St Pete Polls demonstrated slightly more than 66% of voters would support such an amendment. Constitutional amendments in Florida require 60% or more of the vote to pass, so if backers can convince a similar percentage of Floridians to vote for the measure, they will be in good political shape.
What’s next in Florida energy deregulation?
First the Florida Supreme Court must allow the ballot language to remain and the initiative’s backers must reach the required number of signatures to place the amendment on the ballot. Following that, a heated political campaign will likely occur between those who want this amendment to pass and those who oppose it. In the end, Florida voters will decide whether they believe energy deregulation will be helpful in working to bring down the price of energy, increase market competition and efficiencies, and be an overall benefit for the state. The alternative for Florida residents is the status quo monopoly, which provides little to no recourse for customers who would prefer to join the ranks of those in states like Texas who have deregulated and are working to continue to lower energy costs.