Petition Seeks to Get Rejected Energy Choice Proposal on 2020 Ballot

A worker is seen on top of an utility pole
A worker is seen on top of an utility pole / Getty Images

Residential and business ratepayers could save as much as $7.5 billion a year by 2030 if Florida joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia in untangling its utility regulations to generate competition in wholesale and retail electric markets.

The Coalition for Energy Choice, an Alachua-based political action committee (PAC) chaired by James A. Patton, Jr., is spearheading a Citizens for Energy Choices petition drive to get such a proposal before Florida voters in 2020.

On Nov. 30, the last required state Division of Elections (DEC) reporting date, Citizens for Energy Choices had raised $434,000 — all from Coalition for Energy Choice — spent $396,515 and submitted 33,863 valid petition signatures in a preliminary step to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.

The proposed "Changes to Energy Market Initiative" calls for wholesale and retail electricity markets to "be fully competitive so that electricity customers are afforded meaningful choices among a wide variety of competing electricity providers."

If adopted by 60 percent of voters in 2020, the constitutional amendment would establish the right for customers to choose electricity providers and limit the role of investor-owned electric utilities – such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co. – to constructing, operating and repairing transmission and distribution systems.

The proposed initiative is one of 13 citizen-initiated constitutional amendments that have preliminarily qualified to petition for inclusion on the 2020 ballot. The proposed measures must each secure 766,200 signatures of registered voters by Feb. 1, 2020, to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot.

Among other proposed petitions: "The $15 Minimum Wage Initiative" sponsored by Florida For A Fair Wage and Orlando attorney John Morgan; the "Medicaid Expansion Initiative"’ to expand Medicaid to about 800,000 Floridians; and the "Acknowledgement of God Pledge in Schools Initiative", to "provide for a daily pledge in public schools for the purpose of acknowledging the role of God in America's founding."

Two petitions seek to get "assault weapon" bans on the ballot, two are related to the state’s medical marijuana program and four propose changes to elections laws, including one seeking to establish a top-two open primary system and the other, the "Open Primaries Initiative", to allow voters to vote in primary elections regardless of party affiliation.

The "Changes to Energy Market Initiative" would not change the structure of the state’s electric-power retail market. It would, however, declare it state policy to "establish an open and competitive market."

The initiative would "empower consumers of investor-owned utility companies with the rights to choose providers on a competitive wholesale and retail electric market and to produce electricity for themselves; and require the Florida State Legislature to pass laws to implement the amendment."

The proposed amendment would require the Florida Legislature to pass laws by 2025 to "limit the activity of investor-owned electric utilities to the construction, operation and repair of electrical transmission and distribution systems; promote competition in the generation and retail sale of electricity; protect against unwarranted service disconnections; prohibit any granting of either monopolies or exclusive franchises for the generation and sale of electricity;" and "establish an independent market monitor to ensure the competitiveness of the wholesale and retail electric markets."

The tentative measure also includes a provision stating if the Legislature does not enact the required laws according to the amendment, then any Florida citizen could seek judicial relief compelling the Legislature to comply.

Virtually the same proposal was submitted as Question 3 in Nevada, where constitutional amendments must be approved in successive general elections. Question 3 was approved in 2016, but rejected in 2018.

The initiative is also, essentially, a revival of Proposal 51, which was rejected by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) for inclusion on the 2018 ballot.

Proposal 51 cited a study by the Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic and analytics firm, that found if Florida’s energy market resembled that of Texas, customers could have saved up to $6 billion in 2016. In 2030, the group estimates savings of more than $7.5 billion and generation more than 90,000 permanent jobs if statewide competition is introduced soon.