By Trevor Aaronson
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Utility companies operating in Florida have donated more than $1.9 million to the misleadingly named Consumers for Smart Solar, a political action committee set up to oppose a ballot initiative that would allow for third-party sales of rooftop solar energy.
According to a tally of campaign contributions by the Energy and Policy Institute and the Center for Media and Democracy, organizations that promote adoption of solar energy, Florida Power and Light — which provides power service to nearly half the state — has given $595,000 to the PAC. Tampa Electric Company has kicked in $556,000, Duke Energy $355,000, Gulf Power Company $380,000, and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative $30,000.
In April, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting published a story by Eric Barton that documented how utility companies’ $12 million in campaigns contributions to Florida’s elected officials had helped to stop proposed legislation that would allow allow third-party solar power sales in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign alone took in more than $1.1 million from the state’s utility companies. FPL objected to the story, and in a letter to newspaper publishers and editors statewide, an FPL spokesman said FCIR’s reporting was “riddled with factual errors and misleading claims.” FCIR published the letter and responded to the claims publicly.
Florida’s utility companies — which are regulated by the Public Service Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor — aren’t alone in propping up Consumers for Smart Solar with hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. Consumers for Smart Solar has also received a total of $600,000 from two benignly named organizations that act as funnels for Koch Industries’ money — 60 Plus Association and the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
In August, Francisco Alvarado reported for FCIR on how the National Black Chamber of Commerce — whose only key employees, according to tax filings, are the executive director, Harry C. Alford, and his wife — brings in about $1 million per year, most it from large companies that oppose clean energy initiatives, such as ExxonMobil and Koch Industries subsidiary Georgia-Pacific.
Alford has testified before the U.S. Congress at least 16 times. He alleges that solar power and other alternative energy initiatives have a disproportionately negative economic impact on minority business owners — a claim the rival organization U.S. Black Chambers describes as misleading. In June, Alford submitted a letter to the Public Service Commission lobbying against changes that would allow for third-party sales of rooftop solar energy in Florida.
As of Nov. 16, Consumers for Smart Solar has received a total of $3.78 million. Here’s a list of who’s giving and how much: