A state-wide small business alliance called the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition has been launched launched to oppose what it says are Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) predatory practices.
Specifically, the coalition asserts in a news release that the company is using its public resources for private gain in the home services market including air conditioning, heating, plumbing and electrical services.
MEP is an acronym for mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors. Coalition organizers include 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).
The group says that FPL is leveraging assets from their regulated ratepayer funded utility monopoly to expand into new for-profit businesses.
The news release asserts that FPL entered the air conditioning, electrical & plumbing services and contracting business using a subsidiary called FPL Energy Services. Jupiter- Tequesta Air Conditioning, Plumbing & Heating is now promoting itself 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.
The coalition says it has asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the FPL’s business practices in, it asserts, misappropriating regulated public assets to enter private for-profit markets.
“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,” said Jaime DiDomenico, president of Cool Today, an HVAC, plumbing and electrical company based in Sarasota, and a member of the MEP coalition. “We hope the Attorney General will intervene to protect local businesses, jobs and consumers.”
FRACCA originally filed a complaint with the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) on April 18 to prevent FPL from subsidizing Jupiter-Tequesta A/C through FPL Energy Services.
NextEra Energy, FPL, FPL Energy Services and Jupiter-Tequesta A/C all share officers and directors. In addition, FPL has admitted to collecting pricing data and customer information from independent contractors participating in rebate programs, the coalition asserts.
Saying the reason was because of the PSC’s inaction, FRACCA and the MEP Coalition for Fair Competition sent another letter on Sept. 13 seeking clarification of FPL’s positions and providing supplemental information to the PSC for consideration, the news release says.
Tray Batcher, a Partner with Cotney Construction Law which represents FRACCA, said in a statement: “FPL is illegally subsidizing a for-profit affiliate using regulated ratepayer funds.
“It is outrageous, unfair and extraordinarily damaging to local small businesses and FPL ratepayers.”
The coalition contends that FPL will continue its expansion into home services “improperly using extensive customer data, infrastructure and market power to decimate local businesses and dominate their markets.”
The contractors group says 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 the company’s goal is to leverage the its market power, aggressively recruit their employees, use predatory pricing to steal their customers and put them out of business,” the news release says.
As evidence of this unfair competition, the coalition points to a precedent that recently occurred 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.
SFACA president Doug Lindstrom said in a statement: “The Public Service Commission and legislature need to intervene to protect local family owned businesses from unfair predatory practices. These small businesses and the jobs they provide are the backbone of our communities.”
“They will not stop with HVAC,” said Keith Martin, co-owner of Badger Bob’s Services, a Sarasota-based HVAC company. “If they are allowed to get away with it, they will continue their expansion into electrical, plumbing and additional industries.”
FPL has not yet responded to a request for comment from Florida Construction News.