TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Local governments in Florida will not be allowed to stop utility companies from using certain fuels to get power to their customers, no matter what the environmental impact could be, under a new law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The governor signed HB 919 into law on June 21. Specifically, it stops city or county governments from putting rules in place that control what types of energy are used by power companies to supply their customers with electricity.

For Florida, this means that city and county governments can’t stop companies like Florida Power and Light or Tampa Energy Company from using whatever fuel sources they’d like, regardless of potential environmental impacts or costs to consumers. Still, the companies will be subject to some regulation by the Florida Public Service Commission.

The two-page law explicitly “voids” any “resolution, ordinance, rule, code, policy, or action” from before July 1, 2021 that placed restrictions on fuel types for utility companies. For Florida’s cities and counties, it simply erases any rules that were already in place before July 1, even the ones that Florida residents supported or voted for.

The law explicitly says it does not prevent boards of a municipality or other governmental entities that own or operate or directly control a utility from passing their own regulations or governing policies.

Through passage of the bill, the only restrictions the larger state government is enacting are ones that block the smaller governmental bodies from controlling the fuel types of utilities in their local area of control.

From the newly signed law:

“Notwithstanding the restrictions of this section, this section does not prevent the board of a municipality or governmental entity which owns or operates and directly controls an electric or natural gas utility, from passing rules, regulations, or policies governing the utility.”

HB 919 – Preemption Over Restriction of Utility Services

A Florida House analysis of the law says it prevents local governments from “enforcing a resolution, ordinance, rule, code, or policy, or take any other action that restricts or prohibits, or has the effect of restricting or prohibiting, the types or fuel sources of energy production which may be used” by the following types of utility entities:

  • Investor-owned electric utilities
  • Municipal electric utilities
  • Rural electric cooperatives
  • Entities formed by interlocal agreement to generate, sell, and transmit electrical energy
  • Investor-owned gas utilities
  • Gas districts
  • Municipal natural gas utilities
  • Natural gas transmission companies
  • Certain propane dealers, dispensers, and gas cylinder exchange operators

Basically, the new law not only removes any restrictions already put in place by a local authority, but prevents them from self-governing their own area’s utilities, placing that power solely in the hands of the state government as it pertains to fuel restrictions.

Critics of HB 919 are concerned that the new law will allow the state’s power companies to focus more on profit and less on the needs of their consumers or environmental dangers posed by non-renewable fuels, while “removing the voices of Florida’s communities.”

A July 2020 report from Vote Solar, a non-profit clean energy advocacy group, says about $5 billion leaves the state’s economy each year to pay for gas out of state.

Among the different energy options in Florida, the U.S. Energy Administration says that the state’s biggest fuel source, by consumption, is natural gas. A report from EIA shows that Florida is the second-largest producer of electricity in the country, with 70% coming from natural gas. The state is also the fourth-largest energy consumer nationally.

Vote Solar’s report says the state’s natural gas usage is double the national average.

The effects on local control, and what it means for future sustainability, has been a sticking point, with some of Florida’s federal representatives taking notice as well.

“HB 919 would preempt and prevent cities, counties and citizens from limiting dirty energy sources like fracked gas and throw a wrench into expanding solar power and updating building codes to provide cost-saving energy efficiency savings to Floridians,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said to Gov. DeSantis in a letter about the bill last month.

Proponents of the bill say the removal of the restrictions is a positive for the state.

Now that HB 919 is law, utility companies will be the ones responsible for choosing the fuel types used to supply customers with power, regardless of potential environmental impacts.