Pensacola May Soon Consider Municipal Utility
By Jeremy Morrison
Although the Pensacola City Council shied away from the topic this week, it looks like a discussion will soon be had concerning the merits of a municipally-owned electric utility company.
Pensacola City Councilwoman Jennifer Brahier is pushing for a feasibility study centered on the concept of the city forgoing a franchise agreement with Florida Power and Light in favor of producing and providing its own electricity.
“This is simply doing our due diligence to do a feasibility study,” Councilwoman Brahier said during the Oct. 11 agenda conference, framing the feasibility as “the responsible thing to do.”
Currently, the city of Pensacola is negotiating a franchise agreement with Florida Power and Light, though that process is long-running and now stalled.
“We’ve been operating in sort of the month-to-month for a long time,” said Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson.
Brahier pointed out that the city last negotiated a franchise agreement in the late 1970s, and was now looking to do so for decades to come, as the landscape of electricity generation continues to evolve with the technological improvements in green technology like solar power.
“Remember, we haven’t evaluated this in 42 years, and we’re looking to go forward with another 30, that’s 72 years of an ever-changing technology,” Brahier said.
To conduct a feasibility study, the councilwoman said, it’ll take about $20,000. Other council members seemed intrigued, but some wondered about the timing of the request.
“For me, I think it’s an interesting conversation,” said Council President Jared Moore, going on to say the issue “doesn’t pass the timely-sniff test for me.”
The issue Moore, as well as the mayor and other council members, had was that Brahier presented this item as an add-on item to the agenda conference instead of scheduling it for a regularly slated discussion.
“Can you talk about the time-sensitivity — why it’s got to be this week?” Moore asked.
Brahier asserted that the city administration was actively pursuing a franchise agreement and that the council needed to have the results of a feasibility study at hand when needed.
“They’re pushing right now to sign it now,” Brahier said.
Mayor Robinson disagreed, telling the council that while Florida Power and Light was keener on getting a franchise deal wrapped up than its predecessor Gulf Power, there was nothing of note in the hopper.
“Mr. President, I think we can end this real fast; we have nothing left on this, nothing eminent that is coming forward one way or another with the franchise agreement,” Robinson said.
Brahier insisted this was inaccurate — “Are you honestly saying that within the last two weeks they did not ask to bring forward an agreement?” — and maintained that a feasibility study needed to be done immediately.
Councilwoman Ann Hill agreed, calling it an “urgent matter,” as did Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who said that if the issue would require a lot of work, then the task should be started as quickly as possible.
“I think if it’s as important as the mayor says it is, why not start now?” Myers said.
Mayor Robinson jumped in to clarify that the study could wait, even telling the council that he was “happy to stop all negotiations” if need be.
“There’s nothing pressing,” Robinson said. “I’m telling you right now; we will not do anything.”
President Moore concluded that it didn’t matter what the administration was doing insofar as negotiations go, as the city council will ultimately have to sign off on any franchise deal.
“Whether the administration or Gulf Power has been secretly running around — the buck stops here,” Moore said.
The council president went on to say that the feasibility study and overall proposition of a municipal utility is a “pretty significant ask” and contended that “for the sake of process,” the issue should be slated as a regular agenda item at a later meeting. The issue, Moore said, amounts to a “thrilling conversation,” but not one that should be rushed into.
“We control the clock,” Moore said.
Enough city council members agreed with the president on this front, with a 4-3 vote putting this feasibility study on hold for now.