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Fla. Supreme Court rejects ballot initiative to deregulate electricity markets

The Florida Supreme Court shot down a constitutional amendment Jan. 9 that sought to open the state's electricity markets to competition, ruling that the ballot initiative's summary would mislead voters regarding its effects.

Advocacy group Citizens for Energy Choices proposed a voting item for the state's Nov. 3 general election that would have deregulated wholesale and retail electricity markets and allowed consumers to self-generate or purchase power from any provider. In a Jan. 9 opinion, the court said the initiative's summary inaccurately says consumers would have the right to sell electricity if it became law.

"At no point does the initiative grant a freestanding constitutional right to sell electricity," the court said. "The question is not whether a person has the right to sell electricity if the initiative is adopted, but whether, as the ballot summary claims, the initiative grants that right. It does not, and the ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading."

The ruling comes after Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody submitted a petition to the court in March 2019 arguing the ballot proposal's title and summary were "not clear and unambiguous."

The ballot initiative would have also limited the state's investor-owned utilities — Chesapeake Utilities Corp.'s Florida Public Utilities Co., Duke Energy Corp.'s Florida subsidiary, Emera Inc.'s Tampa Electric Co., and NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light Co. and Gulf Power Co. — to building, operating and repairing transmission and distribution systems. Many of the utilities filed briefs in the court proceeding opposing the proposed amendment, calling it anti-competitive and harmful to consumers.

However, independent power providers NRG Energy Inc., Vistra Energy Corp. and Infinite Energy Inc. rallied behind the initiative, which would have provided more market opportunities.

Alex Patton, the chair of Citizens for Energy Choices, said the organization was disappointed in the outcome, but support for electricity deregulation is growing, pointing to states such as Virginia and Arizona, where similar measures have been proposed. Patton also said his organization was close to obtaining the number of signatures required for the constitutional amendment to appear on the 2020 ballot.

"The way Florida regulates and protects monopolies is wrong, antiquated and anti-consumer," Patton said in a statement. "In fact, the adoption of energy choice by other states soon will put Florida at an economic competitive disadvantage."