Few phrases in the lexicon of American politics are more brazenly undemocratic than "legalized monopoly." The phrase conjures images of failed nation states and robber-baron America in the 1890s. Government-backed corporations abuse vital resources with impunity, hiking fees and scamming customers with glee as the government pretends things are cool. That sort of company is straight out of Daniel Plainview's America.
If that seems like an exaggeration, allow us to point you to the recent actions of Florida Power and Light, the only provider of electricity in Eastern and Southern Florida. It's been a straight-up shameful year for FPL: After spending most of 2016 wasting more than $8 million on a failed campaign designed to trick consumers into giving up their rights to solar panels, FPL is now patting itself on the back by hiking rates by $811 million dollars, despite already bringing in profits of more than $1.5 billion per year.
FPL requested a $1.3 billion rate hike at the beginning of the year. But after the company cut that request to a still-massive $811 million, the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously approved the company's request today.
According to the Miami Herald, FPL's monthly charges will jump by $400 million this January, and then another $411 million over the following three years. For the average consumer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, the bill will eventually jump by about $10 per month, or roughly $120 per year.
Critics of the rate hike say FPL is bilking consumers out of money just because nobody will stop them: Newly elected State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez tells New Times he faults the Public Service Commission, even more than FPL itself.
"Taking a step back, you need to look at the regulated monopoly system," Rodriguez says. "This hurts the environment, it hurts democracy. If you want to be upset, you should be more upset with the Public Sevice Commission, whose job it is to protect the public. They do anything but, and have a history of rubber-stamping anything FPL asks for." If anything, he added, FPL should be "demanding a decrease in rates."
AARP Florida's State Director Jeff Johnson also condemned the rate increase, saying in a news release that the rate increase "sets the precedent for other publicly owned utility companies to ask for unwarranted and outrageous increases."
Cruelly, FPL isn't asking for extra money because it's struggling to make ends meet. By almost any account, the increase is motivated by corporate greed, and little else: FPL earned more than $1.6 billion in profits last year, and the rate increase will send that number even further skyward.
"This is pure profit," Rodriguez says. He insisted that FPL is simply too large a company, and that in order for voters to effectively control their own utility companies, energy monopolies need to be broken up.
In the meantime, FPL is vomiting money at projects the public either doesn't need, or actively hates. Critics say the company is using its huge, government-approved profit pool to build backup natural gas generators for no real reason.
The scandals soar skyward from there: it was revealed this year that FPL's Turkey Point Power Plant is pumping polluted water straight into Biscayne Bay, an issue FPL all but refuses to fix. Environmental groups then sued FPL over the leak.
But most brazenly, FPL, along with the rest of Florida's regulated-monopoly energy companies, spent a full year dumping millions into a failed campaign to straight-up trick voters into undermining their rights to solar power. Energy companies spent more than $20 million supporting Amendment 1, forking over cash alongside entities owned by the Koch Brothers and ExxonMobil. The amendment said it would give voters the right to install solar panels in their homes. Had a layperson read this year's ballot without any outside knowledge, the initiative would have seemed like a boon for green energy.
But voters already have the right to their own solar panels, which meant the amendment's promise was totally useless. The rest of the measure's fine print gave companies like FPL much greater control over solar power in the Sunshine State. Thankfully, the measure failed. If FPL wants to save millions, it could just stop funding malicious campaigns to hamstring its own consumers.
"It's even more infuriating that the request is coming at this particular moment, after they spent millions of dollars they’ve taken from customers on a campaign that has been outed explicitly to trick the voters," Rodriguez said.
FPL has long been accused of standing on Tallahassee's neck, and nowhere was that adage clearer than at today's Public Service Commission meeting, which just served as an echo chamber for FPL to congratulate itself. According to the Herald, the Commission did not address any of the concerns the public raised over FPL's money grab: Instead, Commission Chair Julie Brown commended FPL for the "smart, prudent decisions" it's made this year to keep rates low. Astoundingly, another commissioner, Ronald Brise, even said he supported the rate-hike in order to make sure that FPL's "pockets won't be injured." And so, New Times salutes the Commission for bravely defending the pockets of billionaire profiteers from the greedy hands of poor people once again.