Florida Justices Block Ballot Proposal to Open Energy Market

(CN) – A proposed constitutional amendment to allow residents of the Sunshine State to choose their electric providers will not appear on the ballot this fall, the Florida Supreme Court ruled.

Constitutional amendments often make their way to the polls after being screened by state supreme courts, but the Florida justices unanimously decided Thursday that the proposed initiative calling for a competitive energy market should not be brought to voters this year.

In an unsigned opinion, the court called the ballot summary misleading, pointing to a specific statement that claims it “grants customers of investor-owned utilities the right to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity.”

The justices wrote that the ballot question suggests consumers would be given legal power to sell electricity, but that the amendment actually “does no such thing.” The amendment text states that “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the right of electricity customers to buy, sell, trade, or dispose of electricity.”

“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,” the advisory opinion states.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, had asked the court to weigh in. The justices rejected the argument that the proposed amendment “necessarily implies a right to sell electricity.”

“The ballot summary expressly states that the initiative grants the right to sell electricity, and the initiative does not do so,” the opinion states.

The ballot initiative was drafted by the political committee Citizens for Energy Choices. Supporters of the proposed amendment want to deregulate the energy market, allowing consumers to choose between providers in a more competitive market or produce their own solar energy.

“Every person or entity that receives electricity service from an investor-owned electric utility has the right to choose their electricity provider, including, but not limited to, selecting from multiple providers in competitive wholesale and retail electricity markets, or by producing electricity themselves or in association with others, and shall not be forced to purchase electricity from one provider,” the amendment reads.

Citizens for Energy Choices said the final design of the updated energy market system it aims to establish is “unknowable until the Legislature acts.”

“There will be significant costs to state and local governments to transition to a fully operational system,” the group said in a financial impact statement.

The state’s major utilities – including Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric – opposed the ballot initiative.

If 60% of voters had opted for the regulatory changes on the Nov. 3 election, it would have limited the role of large, investor-owned electric companies to constructing, operating and repairing transmission and distribution systems.

The Legislature would have been required to pass laws establishing the competitive market by 2025.

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