Major Florida power company chief retires amid controversy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The leader of Florida’s major electric utility, embroiled in controversy over allegations it backed a false election candidate and spied on a reporter, will resign next month, it was announced Wednesday. .

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

Since Silagy took over FPL in 2011, it has all but phased out coal-fired power plants in favor of cleaner natural gas, expanded its use of solar power and announced plans to adopt “green hydrogen” electricity. Last year, it pledged to eliminate carbon emissions by 2045.

“It has been an honor to lead the FPL team for over a decade, and I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished for our clients and the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There was no indication in the statement that he would resign over the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year when the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union leaked documents, texts and emails from a political consulting firm hired by the company. The newspaper accused consulting firm Matrix LLC of following the opposition of politician FPL by secretly taking over a political news website in Florida and using it to give the company favorable coverage. It also spied on Times Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had criticized the company’s bid to buy Jacksonville Municipal Electric.

In one case, Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez angered FPL by introducing a bill that would eat into FPL’s profits.

In a 2019 email chain obtained by Sentinel, Silagy told two of his VPs, “I want you guys to make (Rodriguez’s) life hell.” The VPs forwarded the emails to Matrix. In the 2020 election, Matrix spent huge sums supporting Rodriguez’s namesake opponent to run independently. When Rodriguez lost his re-election bid, he stole votes. The man, who never showed any political interest, later admitted he was bribed to run.

Other similarly mysterious candidates have popped up elsewhere in the state against FPL critics, all of whom are backed by Matrix. While others involved in these campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from the FPL or Matrix has been charged.

Silagy told Sentinel that he used “terrible wording” in the email, but denied that he or the company ever directed Matrix to do anything illegal. Matrix has accused a former chief executive and former employees of acting without the owner’s knowledge.

In a Wednesday filing with the SEC, NextEra said its investigations into the Sentinel and Times-Union allegations are “substantially complete” and that “based on the information we have, we do not believe that FPL will be held responsible for any campaign financing in Florida.” unlawful conduct.” It also said it believed FPL would not breach federal election law.

In Monroe’s file, there are 72 pages of information about him and his family — including a candid 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 message to FPL executives, the spy showed glee when Monroe tweeted that he had been drunk at the reception (Monroe said he was “joking”). Later that night, the spy reported to the executive that Monroe had used a sad emoji when she took an Uber to his hotel instead of driving. The former CEO of Matrix complained to FPL that Monroe’s personal life was “boring”.

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

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