Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham vowed on Tuesday to put an end to what she called “utility taxes” for advanced nuclear power plant costs and to ban utilities from charging customers for natural gas fracking if she is elected.
Graham, a former U.S House member who lives in Tallahassee, also pledged to appoint consumer-friendly commissioners to the Florida Public Service Commission. The PSC regulates investor-owned utilities such as Florida Power & Light Co.
Graham was asked to comment about whether Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the former Senate Budget Committee chairman embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal, should resign. Graham said she would let Latvala, who has also announced his candidacy for governor, deal with his own issues.
“I think it’s very sad what’s going on in Tallahassee. It’s an example of government that has lost focus on what they should be doing,” Graham said.
Graham said her commitment will be to make sure every elected person is serving the people of Florida.
The focus of her appearance Tuesday at the Southwest Focal Point Senior Center in Pembroke Pines was utility regulation, however.
“Floridians should not be forced to pay for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Graham told about a dozen supporters. “For 20 years the Republican politicians have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they have taxed seniors, small business owners and families.”
Graham said the law that allows investor-owned utilities to charge advanced fees for nuclear plants before they are built should be repealed. Gov. Jeb Bush signed that measure, SB 888, into law in 2006.
FPL customers have paid about $300 million in pre-construction costs for the proposed Turkey Point 6 and 7 reactors. If built, they would join two existing reactors at the plant south of Miami.
Graham said the nuclear fees total more than $3 billion, including what Duke Energy Florida customers have paid for upgrades to the now-shuttered Crystal River nuclear plant and for pre-construction costs for a now canceled nuclear plant in Levy County.
Customers pay the fees on their utility bills. Graham called the fees a tax because they reduce families’ budgets and hurt small businesses.
“It’s a tax that hits older Floridians the hardest,” Graham said.
“Can you imagine if a con man charged your parents for grandparents for a house that was never built? You would be outraged. In this case, you can’t sue because the politicians are the con men in Tallahassee,” Graham said.
Graham blasted Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans in Tallahassee for appointing PSC commissioners who favor the utilities.
“Rick Scott has appointed unqualified, industry-friendly sell-outs to the public service commission to rubber-stamp these new taxes,” Graham said.
“Speaker Richard Corcoran has great control over the PSC Nominating Council, which has refused to consider consumer advocates for the commission under his tenure,” Graham said.
Graham said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican who is also running for governor, approved the new reactors for Turkey Point. The approval of the governor and Cabinet is required for all new power plants.
As an example of the PSC’s favoring utilities, Graham said that in 2015 the commission sided with FPL against the advice of its staff and consumer advocates and voted to allow the utility to charge customers as much as $500 million a year for unregulated natural gas fracking projects in Oklahoma.
In May 2016 in a win for FPL customers, the Florida Supreme Court reversed a PSC decision allowing FPL to charge ratepayers for a fracking venture in Oklahoma.
Graham said she wants a statutory ban to prevent utilities from charging customers for fracking ventures.