Petition urges AG to investigate FPL

Recently a petition was launched to demand incoming Attorney General Ashley Moody investigate the business practices of NextEra Energy and Florida Power & Light (FPL).

We fully support this petition and urge you to sign as well. (https://www.change.org/p/attorney-general-ashley-moody-we-want-utility-monopoly-oversight)

As you know FPL is “is engaged in aggressive, predatory and unlawful practices that use ratepayer funds from their regulated utility to protect, grow and enhance their monopoly at the expense of Florida’s consumers and citizens. These practices, if allowed to continue, will be adopted by other Florida utilities and will expand across the state.”

Take a moment and sign this important petition, before it is too late.

https://www.change.org/p/attorney-general-ashley-moody-we-want-utility-monopoly-oversight

 

Gulf Coast Builders Exchange Endorses Coalition to Oppose FPL’s Predatory Expansion

Joins More than a Dozen Organizations Fighting Company’s Unfair Business Practices

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange (GCBX), which represents a broad cross section of the building industry in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte Counties, today announced that they have endorsed the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition. The coalition recently organized to oppose Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) entrance into the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

The GCBX joins more than a dozen organizations representing hundreds of companies that have endorsed the campaign. Those organizations consist of the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association and all of its eight regional associations, the Sarasota County Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors and two national associations including the Virginia-based Air Conditioning Contractors of America and the Minnesota-based Nexstar Network.

FPL entered the home services market using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company. In addition, their website features a photo of a Jupiter-Tequesta co-branded truck and FPL Energy Services Home Solutions branded truck. The company claims to now serve 30,000 customers from Lucie to Broward County.

“It’s clearly unfair to have a ratepayer funded monopoly using its public assets for private gain,” said Mary Dougherty, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange. “If they are allowed to continue these practices unchecked, it will have a devastating impact on small businesses. It will also set an awful precedent for their continued expansion into the home services industry.”

About the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange

The Gulf Coast Builders Exchange (GCBX), represents a broad cross section of the building industry, including contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and others from affiliated industries. GCBX’s advocacy efforts on behalf of the building industry are conducted in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte Counties. Wholly owned by the membership, the Builders Exchange is a not-for-profit corporation operating as a trade organization under the guidance of a volunteer board of directors as representatives of the industry.

Florida Utility Pursues Market Share in HVAC Services

Contractors claim the utility is tilting the playing field

EXTENDING A HELPING HAND: An FPL Energy Services truck proceeds to its next destination, stocked with a ladder from Jupiter-Tequesta A/C, Plumbing & Electric, a subsidiary of the utility that is also a local HVAC contracting company, reportedly serving 30,000 customers. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MEP COALITION

Most businesses keep an eye out for ways to diversify their offerings and their revenue streams, but should a public utility?

Thanks to a move by Florida Power & Light into residential service for HVAC, the question is no longer hypothetical in that state, and a group of contractors called the MEP Coalition have joined forces to deliver a firm answer: No.

“Everything owned by the utility, which was derived through a state-sanctioned monopoly, should not be permitted to be used when competing against those of us without such benefits,” said Jaime DiDomenico — he is one of two spokesmen for the MEP Coalition; president of Cool Today in Sarasota, Florida; and director and chairman of Nexstar.

The Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA) agrees. Not only has FRACCA joined the MEP Coalition, but it filed a complaint last spring with Florida’s Public Service Commission. FRACCA claimed that FPL should not be able to use an entity named FPL Energy Services to support Jupiter-Tequesta A/C, Plumbing & Electric in a way FRACCA characterizes as unfair. On its website, Jupiter-Tequesta states that it is now “an unregulated subsidiary of FPL Energy Services Inc. and Florida Power & Light.” The contractor serves St. Lucie, Martin, Palm Beach, and Broward counties, listing a 30,000-household customer base.

Before exploring MEP Coalition’s concerns about this relationship further, it should be noted that FPL did not respond to The NEWS’ request to answer several questions regarding the coalition’s allegations for this article.

OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY

A large entity using its size and resource muscle to carve out business at the expense of smaller companies may elicit a David-versus-Goliath reaction from many.

Some may perceive it as unfair. However, plenty of actions are unfair without being illegal. It is worth taking a moment to explore one question: Would subsidization of Jupiter-Tequesta or other HVAC contractors actually break any law or rule?

Tray Batcher is unusually positioned to weigh in on this question. Batcher worked as an estimator for a structural contracting company before earning his law degree and joining Cotney Construction Law in Tampa, Florida, where he began in 2012 and now serves as a partner.

Batcher summed it up this way: “The underlying legal principle is that ratepayers cannot be called upon to subsidize non-utility related costs.”

In one particular line of argument, he pointed to Citizens of the State v. Graham, a 2016 case that went to the Florida Supreme Court.

Batcher recalled that in that case, FPL was found to be “acting as an investor, rather than a purchaser, in the natural gas market” in an Oklahoma energy development opportunity. Ultimately, he said, “the Court considered a long-term hedge in a volatile market a capital investment, and not a hedge to stabilize fuel costs.”

That kind of investment, it ruled, was an expenditure that created an inappropriate financial vulnerability for the utility’s ratepayers. Batcher acknowledged that the Jupiter-Tequesta situation is not quite the same, but he maintained that the legal relevance stands up.

“If FPL gambles on and subsidizes multiple MEP service companies, who ultimately bears the risk of loss? This, of course, is the ratepayer,” said Batcher. “As shown in Citizens of the State v. Graham, it does not matter if the subsidization may actually result in a benefit to ratepayers — the subsidization is still improper and illegal to begin with.”

Batcher went on to speculate on potential consequences.

“If left unchecked, FPL’s illegal subsidization of MEP service companies will result in artificially inflated behemoths, capable of vertical manipulation of the supply chain and manipulation of pricing to consumers within the service market,” he said. “This is why we are asking the attorney general to initiate an investigation into FPL’s unlawful and predatory scheme to use regulated utility ratepayer assets to subsidize expansion into new unregulated industries.”

(One other piece of pertinent regulatory history: A 2010 audit by the Public Services Commission did flag FPL for forwarding customer calls on to subsidiaries such as FPL Energy Services, who then pursued business opportunities with those consumers on the call and also offered them other products by companies who paid FPL for the placement opportunity.)

INTEL AND ENTICEMENTS

Getting back to current conduct, DiDomenico listed “the buildings, the billing systems, the trucks, the support, and yes, the iconic FPL logo” as assets that FPL should not be able to use to establish a market presence at the expense of other companies. But beyond potential misuse of traditional infrastructure, DiDomenico and the coalition have worked to paint a picture of interference designed to push out smaller contractors.

“They place advertisements for Jupiter-Tequesta in invoices mailed to utility customers,” he said.

Specifically, he cited a promo offering a $25 60-point air conditioner tuneup — $54 off the regular price.

FPL even offers to schedule Jupiter-Tequesta to perform a free inspection for the consumer at any residence when transferring power services, DiDomenico added.

These are things that local contractors can’t do, he argued, much like contractors often cannot offer to break a customer bill for a system service agreement into monthly billing (much less fold it into the customer’s existing electric bill).

This advantage extends to other areas, such as insurance and marketing, according to the MEP Coalition. Its website contains a photograph of a letter that appears to be FPL Energy Services’ documentation of self-insurance as submitted to the Port St. Lucie city government. The average HVAC contractor has to pay for liability coverage and does not have pockets deep enough to self-insure, while FPL Energy Services’ letter seems to attest that it can spare a subsidiary like Jupiter-Tequesta the expense.

DEEP POCKETS: The average contractor has to pay for liability coverage and does not have the reserves to self-insure, while FPL Energy Services’ letter seems to attest that it can spare a subsidiary like Jupiter-Tequesta the expense.

The MEP Coalition has collected multiple marketing pieces that have been sent to existing FPL customers in its effort to demonstrate that a subsidized contractor would enjoy yet another considerable advantage over its independent

competition: an extensive customer database.

Finally, there is one audio recording posted among the online documentation for what the MEP Coalition sees as “the case against FPL.”

In what appears to be a recorded voicemail, a man the coalition describes as a paid recruiter calls to pitch what he says is “a great opportunity in the Sarasota area for HVAC technicians that would like to work with FPL.” Not with Jupiter-Tequesta, for instance, or for FPL Energy Services, but with the actual primary utility itself.

 

STATE TO STATE

In addition to FRACCA, Nexstar, and at least three other local and regional contractors’ associations joining the MEP Coalition, the situation has attracted some interest and support from the north.

ACCA’s Todd Washam, director, industry relations, said that this sort of thing is nothing new for contractors around the country.

He stated that while his organization focuses on national issues and at least primarily leaves state-level issues to state organizations, ACCA stands ready to help with its grassroots action alert system, should it be appropriate.

ACCA Interim President and CEO Barton James recalled similar previous situations, including one in New Jersey and “a long battle in Michigan,” while the MEP Coalition cited an almost identical move by Baltimore Gas & Electric, using an entity called BGE Home. In that case, Baltimore Gas & Electric eventually drove close to one-third of locally owned HVAC contractors out of business, according to the coalition.

James recognizes that just as the utility agendas vary, so does the level of organized contractor political infrastructure from state to state. He is clear that ACCA will mobilize their resources to raise awareness when the time is right, and he hopes that will also attract more contractor members into the organization at the end of the day.

“ACCA has a history of stepping in and righting what the utilities were doing,” James said, “but we want to do that in conjunction with people in the state. We want people to join for the voice but stay for the value.”

STANDING THEIR GROUND

The MEP Coalition takes pains to emphasize that it is not against a healthy free market but that it will aggressively defend its right to what it considers a level playing field.

“We are not opposed to competition — just unfair competition by a ratepayer-funded monopoly,” said DiDomenico. “Together, we will fight FPL’s use of their name and logo, public resources, and economies of scale to give them a competitive advantage in this market.”

Whether Florida’s Public Service Commission or its attorney general, Pam Bondi, will interpret some portion of the current dynamic between FPL and Jupiter-Tequesta as a step too far — and whether FPL will have to make a case that this initiative represents no improper encroachment — remains to be seen.

Publication date: 11/26/2018

https://www.achrnews.com/articles/140152-florida-utility-pursues-market-share-in-hvac-services

Sarasota PHCC Endorses Campaign Against FPL’s Business Practices

Becomes twelfth organization to join a coalition of companies.

SARASOTA, FL. – The Sarasota County Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Contractors today endorsed the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition. The coalition recently organized to oppose Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) entrance into the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

It becomes the twelfth organization representing hundreds of companies to endorse the campaign. Those organizations consist of the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA) and all of its eight regional associations and two national associations including the Virginia-based Air Conditioning Contractors of America and the Minnesota-based Nexstar Network.

FPL entered the home services market using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company. In addition, their website features a photo of a Jupiter-Tequesta co-branded truck and FPL Energy Services Home Solutions branded truck. The company claims to now serve 30,000 customers from Lucie to Broward County.

“Our association is committed to doing everything we can to protect our members and ensure a level playing field,” said Ken Jackson, President of the Sarasota County PHCC and a former President of the Florida Association of PHCC. “Hundreds of companies and thousands of people have already joined this fight and our elected officials need to take notice. We can’t allow these predatory practices to continue.”

The Sarasota County PHCC is a regional trade association dedicated to enhancing the health and safety of society and the environment while serving the interests of its members through advocacy, education and training. For more information, visit www.mepcoalition.org.

https://www.contractormag.com/plumbing-contractor/sarasota-phcc-endorses-campaign-against-fpls-business-practices

Sarasota County Contractors Endorse Campaign Against FPL’s Business Practices

Becomes Twelfth Organization Representing Hundreds of Companies to Join Coalition 

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Sarasota County Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Contractors today endorsed the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition. The coalition recently organized to oppose Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) entrance into the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

The Sarasota County PHCC is a regional trade association dedicated to enhancing the health and safety of our society and the environment while serving the interests of its members through advocacy, education and training. It becomes the twelfth organization representing hundreds of companies to endorse the campaign. Those organizations consist of the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA) and all of its eight regional associations and two national associations including the Virginia-based Air Conditioning Contractors of America and the Minnesota-based Nexstar Network.

FPL entered the home services market using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company. In addition, their website features a photo of a Jupiter-Tequesta co-branded truck and FPL Energy Services Home Solutions branded truck. The company claims to now serve 30,000 customers from Lucie to Broward County.

“Our association is committed to doing everything we can to protect our members and ensure a level playing field,” said Ken Jackson, President of the Sarasota County PHCC and a former President of the Florida Association of PHCC. “Hundreds of companies and thousands of people have already joined this fight and our elected officials need to take notice. We can’t allow these predatory practices to continue.”

Nexstar Network Joins Coalition to Oppose FPL’s Predatory Expansion

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Nexstar Network, a national association which represents independent plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical residential contractors, announced that they have joined the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition. The coalition recently organized to oppose Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) entrance into the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing, and electrical services.

Nexstar represents over 600 member companies and becomes the second national association to join the coalition. The other national association to endorse the campaign was Arlington, Virginia-based Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). Coalition members also include the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA) and all of its eight regional associations.

FPL entered the home services market using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services.

“Nexstar was founded by members for members to help these companies succeed,” said Jack Tester, president and CEO of Nexstar Network. “FPL’s predatory practices go against everything we represent. For example, our mission is to guide and develop the service provider by advising them on best practices in the industry. To have a ratepayer-funded monopoly enter this space is not only a gross misuse of public resources but also creates an unfair playing field upon which even the best companies would be unable to compete. Therefore, we will do everything in our power to protect our member companies and ensure fair competition.”

https://www.achrnews.com/articles/139993-nexstar-network-joins-coalition-to-oppose-fpls-predatory-expansion

Florida Coalition Warns South Carolina Contractors about NextEra

Says Ratepayers & Small Businesses Will Suffer if Company Enters Market

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The MEP Coalition for Fair Competition (MEPCO) today sent a letter to the South Carolina Association of Heating & AC Contractors (SCAHACC) to warn them of the dire consequences if NextEra Energy enters the South Carolina market. NextEra Energy has recently expressed an interest in purchasing the failed state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

Even though the expansion for this facility was abandoned, more than 700,000 utility customers are still being charged for this project on their monthly bills. MEPCO claimed that this situation will only get worse for customers and small businesses if NextEra gains a foothold in that state’s energy sector.

As evidence of this, MEPCO stated that Florida Power & Light (FPL), a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, has made numerous attempts to leverage its ratepayer funded resources to subsidize its private enterprises. In response, the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition was formed to oppose FPL’s predatory practices. In particular, FPL is currently using its public resources to enter the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

MEP is an acronym for mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors. Coalition members consist of the South Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SFACA), the Southwest Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SWACCA), the Manasota Air Conditioning Contractors Association (MACCA) and the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA).

FPL aggressively entered the air conditioning, electrical & plumbing services and contracting business using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. In fact, Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company. Left unchallenged, MEPCO’s argued that FPL will continue their expansion into home services improperly using extensive customer data, infrastructure and market power to decimate local businesses and dominate their markets.

This situation is not without precedent and recently occurred in Maryland when Baltimore Gas & Electric’s (BGE) entered the HVAC market as BGE Home. In that case, about 30 percent of locally owned and operated heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical service companies were forced out of business due to BGE’s unfair business practices.

MEPCO urged SCAHACC to contact their public officials and request that they deny NextEra Energy’s attempt to purchase any assets in their state. They stated that NextEra’s only goal is to profit at the expense of ratepayers and small businesses.

“We learned from the Maryland case so we’re forewarning the South Carolina Association of Heating & AC Contractors,” said Skip Farinhas, Vice President of SFACA and a spokesperson for MEPCO. “We don’t want them to look back and say, ‘We should have done something when we had the chance.’”

Read the letter here.

MEPCO Letter to SCAHACC

October 18, 2018

Mike Geddings, President
South Carolina Association of Heating & AC Contractors
1898 Calhoun Street, No. 4
Columbia, SC 29201

 

Dear Mr. Geddings:

We are writing to forewarn you of dire consequences if NextEra Energy enters the South Carolina market. Specifically, it is our understanding that the company has expressed an interest in purchasing the failed state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

Even though the expansion for this facility was abandoned, more than 700,000 utility customers are still being charged for this project on their monthly bills. This situation will only get worse for customers and small businesses if NextEra gains a foothold in your energy sector.

As evidence of this, Florida Power & Light (FPL), a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, has made numerous attempts to leverage its ratepayer funded resources to subsidize its private enterprises. Therefore, we recently formed the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition to oppose FPL’s predatory practices. In particular, FPL is currently using its public resources to enter the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.

MEP is an acronym for mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors. Coalition members consist of the South Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SFACA), the Southwest Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SWACCA), the Manasota Air Conditioning Contractors Association (MACCA) and the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA).

FPL aggressively entered the air conditioning, electrical & plumbing services and contracting business using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. In fact, Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company. Left unchallenged, FPL will continue their expansion into home services improperly using extensive customer data, infrastructure and market power to decimate local businesses and dominate their markets.

This situation is not without precedent and recently occurred in Maryland when Baltimore Gas & Electric’s (BGE) entered the HVAC market as BGE Home. In that case, about 30 percent of locally owned and operated heating, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical service companies were forced out of business due to BGE’s unfair business practices.

Therefore, we urge you to contact your public officials and request that they deny NextEra Energy’s attempt to purchase any assets in your state. NextEra’s only goal is to profit at the expense of ratepayers and small businesses.

For information about the coalition, please visit us at www.mepcoalition.org. Also, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Doug Lindstrom, President

SFACA

For a PDF version of the letter click here.

 

 

 

National Air Conditioning Association Endorses Campaign Against FPL

Joins MEP Contractors in Opposing Utility’s Predatory Practices

PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) today endorsed a campaign against Florida Power & Light (FPL). They have joined the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition to oppose the utility’s use of its public resources for private gain in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) market.

MEP is an acronym for mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors. Other members of the coalition consist of the South Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SFACA), the Southwest Florida Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SWACCA), the Manasota Air Conditioning Contractors Association (MACCA) and the Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRACCA).

Currently, FPL is entering the air conditioning, electrical & plumbing services and contracting business with a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. For example, Jupiter-Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is promoting themselves as an FPL Energy Services Company on their website. In addition, their website features a photo of a Jupiter-Tequesta co-branded truck and FPL Energy Services Home Solutions branded truck. The company claims to now serve 30,000 customers from Lucie to Broward County.

Left unchallenged, the coalition contends that FP&L will continue their expansion into home services using their established branding and recognition, customer lists, infrastructure and market power to decimate their businesses and dominate their markets. They say FPL is unfairly using ratepayer funded resources from their regulated utility to force their way into new revenue streams and higher profits. They argue that their goal is to leverage the company’s market power, aggressively recruit their employees, use predatory pricing to steal their customers and put them out of business.

“The Air Conditioning Contractors of America is proud to join the MEP Coalition to fight against utility expansion into heating and air conditioning services, as well as other services provided by the skilled trades. ACCA stands with professional contractors and local business owners who want a level playing field, fair competition and protection from utility monopoly subsidized threats” said Todd Washam, Director of Industry and External Relations for the ACCA.

Flap over FPL


MEP Coalition for Fair Competition asks state to investigate FPL and FPL Energy Services, claiming utility uses public assets to boost for-profit contracting business.

by: Business Observer Staff

A group of HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors have banded together to ask the state of Florida to prevent what it calls unfair trade practices by Florida Power & Light that threaten their businesses.

Dubbed the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition, the group asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate FPL, claiming the utility giant is misappropriating regulated public assets to enter private for-profit business markets. MEP stands for mechanical, engineering and plumbing.

Those assets, the coalition charges, include a customer database and public money to subsidize the effort. It cites Jupiter-Tequesta A/C, which is marketing itself as an FPL Energy Services company using FPL’s name and logo in all of its advertisements. FPL is a subsidiary of Juno Beach,-based NextEra Energy.

FPL is also subsidizing Jupiter-Tequesta A/C, the coalition alleges, in other ways, such as recruiting employees; transferring incoming calls directly to the subsidiary; marketing services in utility customer invoices; and sharing infrastructure and other ratepayer-funded resources.

“FPL is using utility ratepayer funds and assets to buy their way into HVAC, electrical, plumbing and other industries, and their goal is to put small local companies out of business and control these markets,” Jaime DiDomenico, president of Cool Today, a Sarasota-based HVAC, plumbing and electrical company, says in a statement. “We hope the attorney general will intervene to protect local businesses, jobs and consumers.”

FPL spokeswoman Debbie Larsson tells Coffee Talk the utility and the energy service contractors are operated as separate entities — and “to suggest otherwise is simply wrong.”

“It’s important to understand that FPL Energy Services — like any other third party — does not have access to FPL customer information without the customer’s consent,” says Larsson, senior director in financial and corporate communications with the utility. “FPL Energy Services has provided a variety of innovative solutions for customers throughout Florida for decades. FPL Energy Services’ revenue and expenses are kept separate from the regulated electricity provider Florida Power & Light.”

The Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association originally filed a complaint April 18 with the state’s Public Service Commission to prevent FPL from subsidizing Jupiter-Tequesta A/C through FPL Energy Services.