Head of main Florida power company retiring amid controversy

Jan 24, 2023, 11:06 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2023, 1:10 pm
FILE - Florida Power and Light President and CEO Eric Silagy addresses reporters and guests during ...

FILE - Florida Power and Light President and CEO Eric Silagy addresses reporters and guests during a news conference unveiling the new Blue Origin rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Sept. 15, 2015. It was announced Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, that Silagy, the leader of Florida’s primary electric company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that it backed sham election candidates and spied on a journalist, will be stepping down next month. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The leader of Florida’s primary electric company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that it backed sham election candidates and spied on a journalist, will be stepping down next month, it was announced Wednesday.

Florida Power & Light’s parent company, NextEra Energy, announced that CEO Eric Silagy will step down Feb. 15 and then retire in May after assisting his successor, Armando Pimentel, through the transition. Pimentel, a top executive at NextEra, is taking over a company that serves about 5 million Florida homes and businesses, or about half the state.

Since Silagy took over FPL in 2011, it has almost eliminated its use of coal-burning power plants, shifting to cleaner-burning natural gas, expanded its use of solar energy and announced plans to adopt “green hydrogen” power. Last year, it pledged to eliminate its carbon emissions by 2045.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the FPL team for more than a decade and I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we have delivered to our customers and the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There is no indication in the statement he was stepping down because of the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year after the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union were leaked documents, texts and emails from a political consulting firm the company hired. The newspapers charged that the consulting company, Matrix LLC, went after politicians FPL opposed and secretly took over a Florida political news website and used it to give the company favorable coverage. It also spied on Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had written critically of the company’s bid to buy Jacksonville’s municipal electric company.

In one case, Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez angered FPL by proposing a bill that would have eaten into its profits.

In a 2019 email chain obtained by the Sentinel, Silagy tells two of his vice president, “I want you to make (Rodriguez’s) life a living hell.” The vice presidents forwarded the email to Matrix. In the 2020 election, Matrix spent heavily supporting the independent candidacy of a Rodriguez opponent with the same last name. He siphoned votes away as Rodriguez lost his reelection bid. The man, who had never shown any political interest, later admitted he was bribed to run.

Other similar mystery candidates popped up elsewhere in the state to run against FPL critics, all getting support from Matrix. While others involved in those campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from FPL or Matrix has been.

Silagy told the Sentinel he used a “poor choice of words” in his email, but denied that he or the company ever directed Matrix to do anything illegal. Matrix blamed a former CEO and former employees who it said acted without ownership’s knowledge.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday, NextEra said its investigation into Sentinel and Times-Union’s allegations “is substantially complete” and “based on information in our possession, we believe that FPL would not be found liable for any of the Florida campaign finance law violations.” It also says it believes FPL will be cleared of federal elections code violations.

In Monroe’s file, there were 72 pages of information on him and his family — including a surreptitious photo of him and his wife walking their dog near their home.

A Matrix spy even appeared to follow him to a wedding hundreds of miles away. In a text to an FPL executive, the spy showed glee when Monroe tweeted that he was getting drunk at the reception (Monroe has said he was being “facetious”). The spy later that night used a sad-faced emoji when he reported back to the executive that Monroe took an Uber to his hotel instead of driving. The former Matrix CEO complained to FPL that Monroe’s personal life is “boring.”

“I believe it is fair to detect an undercurrent of hostility in these records,” Monroe wrote in a column.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Head of main Florida power company retiring amid controversy