Florida Dems bash Duke Energy & Rick Scott at the same time

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Last week, Duke Energy Florida extricated themselves from an extremely unpopular policy position by announcing that it would issue a credit to customers adversely affected by a change to its meter reading system that led them to charge higher electricity rates to some customers. That initial change caused an uproar amongst its customer base, coming at the hottest time of the summer, when power usage is at its highest.

"All of my friends and family have been negatively affected," complained St. Pete resident Tiffany Cornelius today on a conference call organized by the Florida Democratic Party about the changes Duke initially made to its meter-reading formula. Originally from Charlotte, North Carolina (Duke's corporate home), Cornelius says she's had quite a few issues with Duke in the past. "I've known them to be like a bullying monopoly that has to be kept in check," she said. 

Stoking consumer anger about Duke and the other investor-owned power companies in Florida has been an issue that environmental groups and Representative Dudley have pushing over the past year, and as state records indicate, those companies have been donating primarily towards Governor Scott and the Republican Party of Florida, giving state Democrats new material to plumb.

As reported by Reuters, according to current state records, Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility — serving 4.6 million customers — has given a combined $1.2 million to Scott's political action committee, Let's Get to Work, and the Republican Party of Florida over the last year. Duke Energy contributed another $1.2 million to Scott and the Republican Party.

"He [Scott] makes it clear that wealthy campaign donors come before hard-working Floridians facing these crazy rates," Cornelius said. 

'Why are we subsidizing a highly profitable company?" asked Representative Dudley on the call, referring to his bill, which would repeal a state law that allows utilities like Duke to charge customers for new nuclear power plants before they are built. "It's a complete ripoff, and Rick Scott has been totally silent on this, except for his ... cozy, chummy conversations with utilities that result in him receiving over a million [dollars] in contributions between RPOF and the $500,000 he's gotten for his campaign. So the public be damned, and nothing useful to help."

Duke Energy in particular has been used as a political punching bag by both the Democrats and Republicans in the general election. Last month the RPOF produced an ad that criticized Crist for allegedly "helping Duke get billions, while Rick Scott put a stop to the Crist giveaway." However, PolitiFact called that allegation false.

"We need a governor who has the character to take on Duke Energy, TECO, FP&L, all the others," said Cornelius. "And I think that's Charlie Crist. That's why the big utilities are scared of him." In fact, fear of Crist becoming the next governor of Florida was the thrust of a story written by Reuters' reporter David Adams over the Labor Day weekend.

As Republican governor between 2007 and 2011, Crist "sent shivers through the entire utility system," said Colleen Castille, who headed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under Governor Jeb Bush.

Crist was a darling of clean energy advocates, hosting a climate change summit in 2007 alongside another green Republican, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His focus on clean energy challenged the Florida utilities who are heavily dependent on natural gas and coal, as well as some nuclear.

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