On June 4th I stopped by the North Florida Fairgrounds on South Monroe Street to visit Gulf Power Company’s open house. A friend had passed along the newspaper ad from a week earlier in the Tallahassee Democrat seeking information about the project, and why they had an unannounced survey crew show up on my property in rural Jefferson County.
A few days earlier I encountered the first survey crew about to enter my land, and naturally I questioned the purpose of their visit. I was informed they were surveying acreage (mine and others) near my home as an alternate route for Gulf Power’s transmission lines, and they had a legal right to be there.
When I entered the fair building it was swirling with activity. I was asked to sign in and provide contact information.
After doing so I asked for an explanation for the surveyors on my property, presenting the letter the first survey crew leader had handed me after I engaged him. I was promptly shuttled from one employee to another, each with their own area of specialty.
One could tell me about the project’s schedule, another about the vast public benefits. I was even told I should consider their intrusion as my contribution to hurricane resiliency in the panhandle and I would be contacted by a land agent soon.
There was no mention of their development-fueled expanding customer base in the coastal counties they serve. Many of these new homes are vulnerable to next tropical storm make landfall.
Their answers appeared scripted and well-rehearsed. Their smiles were obsequious and their stated concerns for my position patronizing, but there were no straight answers to my questions.
Clearly I-10 offers an immediate route for new transmission lines on existing poles and no disruption to any of the seven counties (Columbia to Jackson) in Gulf Power’s current project area. But this would require companies, with battalions of lawyers and lobbyist, to work together to accomplish their professed concern for the public good.
It is much easier, and no doubt less costly, to deal with a group of individual landowners especially when there is no requirement for notification to initiate a project across privately owned land. We do not have a public relations cadre which produces slick publications and videos with happy people.
Our stewardship of the land has, in many cases, lasted multiple generations. We do much more than just mow the weeds under the powerlines once a year.
As to the suddenly appearing surveyors, under current statutes power companies are not required to inform property owners of their plans or activities if initial voltage thresholds are not exceeded. Gulf Power’s employees either did not know this or would not tell me at their open house.
Unlike many places in the world, one hallmark of American democracy are the rights of property owners. The little guy cannot be arbitrarily pushed around and walked on by the giants with unfettered power and endless resources.
Almost everyone understands the government’s right of eminent domain when there is overwhelming public benefit to a government project such as roads, dams and even power transmission lines.
Gulf Power is a subsidiary of Nextera Energy, a for-profit company with extremely well compensated executives and answerable only to its stock holders. Despite its professed benevolence and concern for the wellbeing of the public, their first objective is lower cost to produce higher company profits.
This profit motive is not in conflict with American ideals as long as companies respect all the rights of individuals. From my perspective, and many others in Jefferson and Leon Counties, Nextera has behaved as a callous bully who has only its self-interest in mind.
The 19th century British statesman Lord Acton said “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Nextera and Gulf Power are the latest examples of unconstrained Goliaths who will trample all in their path with no care for the damage or destruction in their wake.
It is time for Florida’s leaders to pull the plug on big power’s undue influence.