The head of Florida’s main power company retires amid controversy

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The head of Florida’s largest power company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations it endorsed phony election candidates and spied on a journalist, will step down on next month, it was announced Wednesday.

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

Since Silagy took over FPL in 2011, it has nearly phased out the use of coal-burning power plants, switched to cleaner-burning natural gas, expanded its use of solar power and announced plans to adopt “green hydrogen” power. Last year, he pledged to eliminate his carbon emissions by 2045.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the FPL team for more than a decade and I could not be more proud of the accomplishments we have delivered to our customers and to the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There is no indication in the statement that he would resign because of the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year after the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union Documents, texts and emails from a political consultant hired by the company were leaked. Newspapers accused the consulting firm, Matrix LLC, of ​​going after politicians FPL opposed and secretly seized a Florida political news website and used it to provide the firm with favorable coverage. He also spied on Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had written critically of the company’s offer to buy Jacksonville’s municipal power company.

In one case, Democratic state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez angered FPL by proposing a bill that would have eaten up their profits.

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

Other similar mystery candidates appeared in other parts of the state to compete against FPL’s critics, all supported by the Matrix. While others involved in those campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from FPL or the Matrix has.

Silagy told the Sentinel that he used “poor word choice” 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 he said acted without the owners’ knowledge.

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

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

A Matrix spy even seemed to follow him to a wedding hundreds of miles away. In a text message to an FPL executive, the spy was overjoyed when Monroe tweeted that he was getting drunk at the reception (Monroe has said he was being “joking”). Later that night, the spy used a sad face emoji when he informed 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 think it is fair to detect an undercurrent of hostility in these records,” Monroe wrote in a column.

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