Pinellas activists tell Duke Energy they want their money back

At a press conference in front of Governor Rick Scott’s campaign office in St. Petersburg on Thursday, members of Florida For Fair Rates demanded that he return the $1.2 million in campaign funding he's received from Duke Energy, as well as $3.2 billion for its failed nuclear power plants. In recent weeks Duke Energy has faced relentless scrutiny in their business practices. On Wednesday WTSP-Channel10 Investigates reported that Duke has been overcharging small businesses and churches in Pinellas County as well.

In response to this most recent evidence of Duke’s inflating costs, Judithanne McLauchlan, candidate for State Senate, is calling on Senator Jeff Brandes to admit to voters that he supports Duke’s dishonest practices. She says, “I find it highly unlikely that we can trust Senator Brandes to stand up to one of his largest campaign investors, Duke, and instead actually look out for consumers, small businesses and churches. Any election year pandering by Senator Brandes, should be seen for what it is. As a career politician, he has a Tallahassee record which includes voting to extend the Duke utility tax last year, when he co-introduced SB 1472. My first bill in office will be to repeal the Duke utility tax and mandate a full refund to customers.”

St. Petersburg state Representative Dwight Dudley is also calling on Governor Scott, elected officials and any other candidates who have accepted campaign contributions from Duke to return their contributions. In kicking off what he calls, “The Duke Energy Dirty Money Challenge,” he says, "We are calling on Governor Scott to stop putting the powerful few before the people of Florida. We can see through his superficial plans and hypocritical ads. He can’t be trusted to put families ahead of the special interests of Duke Energy.”

Vince Cocks, St. Pete resident and small business owner, points out that while this has become an issue in recent weeks, Duke should have been held accountable years ago. He says Representative Kathleen Peters, Senator Brandes and Representative Larry Ahern have all wrongfully taken donations from Duke. "It would be very insightful of them to return any money that was given to them," he says. He also fears the $3.2 billion burden for his children and grandchildren, who will have to foot the bill for the decommissioning of the failed power plants, which he estimates will take up to fifty years.

Winnie Foster, well respected Pinellas community organizer and St. Pete resident, says that she has met a lot of people who have to delay paying their rent or electricity bills because they can't afford to pay both at the same time. She doesn’t think Governor Scott has any interest in people. “He says he’s not a scientist. Well, he evidently also doesn’t know the meaning of special interests, because he does not consider citizens, seniors, the poor, those struggling to exist in the State of Florida. We are not his special interests,” she says. Foster believes that rather than the Governor having control of the Public Service Commission, the PSC should be elected by the voters. 

Representative Dudley doesn’t understand why the churches were not notified of the rate changes implemented in January until now. "Why not be proactive, and give back to the churches and small businesses and charge the correct rate?” he pleads, asking, “Why hasn’t the governor done anything? How about the Public Service Commission; they are getting paid something like $136,000 each to protect Floridians. What are they doing?” With no regulation he doesn’t see the PSC doing any service to residents.

In contrast to Governor Scott, Dudley has faith in former governor Charlie Christ, because of his past engagement with energy policies and attempting to pass renewable energy portfolio standards.  “There hasn’t been a peep from this Governor. He has done nothing to help the consumers.” Dudley says “we need laws and rules to regulate these utility companies, because when they are confronted, they do whatever they want. The Legislature showed no interest in this issue until like ten minutes before election day.”

Dudley says that energy policy in this state must change drastically. He's created a non-profit called Renew Florida 2016. This collation will sponsor a couple of Constitutional Amendments to repeal the utility tax and deregulate the selling of renewable power. He says that in his experience over the last two years, the topic of energy policy has been met with hostility. “It’s a lockout. Tallahassee is the wrong place to fix energy policy.”

Bashing Duke is now a bipartisan affair, as Greenlight Pinellas critic David McKalip has called on the Yes on Greenlight campaign to return a $50,000 campaign contribution for Duke. The Yes on Greenlight campaign says they won't, however.

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