Florida Power & Light, one of the country’s largest utilities, abruptly announced the retirement of its chief executive officer after a tenure marked by strong financial returns, moves towards greener energy and multiple scandals.
Under the leadership of Eric Silagy, 54, the company has been linked to allegations of campaign finance violations, media manipulation and surveillance of critical journalists. Silagy, chief executive since 2014, will leave the company in April.
Its parent company, NextEra Energy, has commissioned two separate investigations – one internal, one by an outside law firm – following reports from Florida newspapers, the non-profit news outlet Floodlight and NPR. Asked by Wall Street analysts during an earnings call Wednesday whether Silagy’s withdrawal was in any way prompted by those reports, the parent company’s chief executive said it wasn’t. “We’re not making a connection,” said John Ketchum, CEO of NextEra Energy.
Silagy’s last year of leadership was marked by high natural gas prices; the global supply chain crisis; two disastrous hurricanes; and a barrage of damning media reports.
“I think it took a toll,” Ketchum said Wednesday of the multiple crises. Regarding Silagy’s departure, Ketchum said, “It’s a little bit earlier than…Eric would have liked to do it.”
Campaign donation allegations to spoilers in close races
The media’s scrutiny of the company’s political donations began shortly after the 2020 election, when a trio of spoiler candidates upended tight state senate races toward candidates deemed friendly to Florida Power & Light.
Reports from the Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald tied Silagy to a group of political consultants who had spent millions of dollars secretly promoting the power company’s political goals. The money was allegedly funneled through a network of tax-exempt non-profits who have obscured its origin. The funds supported a total of five spoiler candidates in state senate and county commission races in 2018 and 2020, as well as efforts to thwart a campaign initiative that would have deregulated Florida’s energy market.
“I want you to make his life a living hell… seriously,” Silagy wrote in a 2019 email to two of his vice presidents about one of the Democratic state senators whose 2020 electoral race has been tricky. from a spoiler candidate. The state senator went on to lose reelection by six votes.
Florida Power’s money flowed into the sympathetic media
The company’s money has also secretly secured favorable media coverage, according to investigations by the Orlando Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Guardian, NPR and the Floodlight. In one case, leaked emails revealed that Silagy even successfully suggested specific news coverage to a publication.
NPR and Floodlight also reported in December that people working at Florida political consultancy Power & Light had paid a veteran ABC News freelance producer to try to trip up politicians who took positions contrary to the utility’s business interests. energy. ABC News cut ties with the producer soon after that report.
NPR and Floodlight reported that the same consulting firm worked in Alabama for that state’s dominant energy utility, Alabama Power, and funneled money to news sites that negatively reported critics and utility regulators . Its chief executive, Mark Crosswhite, resigned in December. Its parent company had launched an investigation into related media reports there. (Neither Alabama Power nor its parent company, Southern Company, have commented on those revelations.)
An internal investigation clears Florida Power & Light of wrongdoing charges, but much more is to come
After an initial round of reporting, NextEra commissioned an internal investigation into the allegations against Silagy and Florida Power & Light in Florida. More recently, the company hired an outside law firm to examine the company’s stock more broadly. NextEra officials say the investigation is nearing completion.
Last June, Florida Power & Light spokesman David Reuter wrote that the initial review cleared the company: “This detailed report found no evidence of illegality or wrongdoing on the part of FPL or any of its employees.” That statement was made before further rounds of damaging disclosures prompted an investigation by the outside law firm.
Media reports were cited in an October 2022 Federal Election Commission complaint against several “dark money” non-profit organizations that received corporate funds. The complaint implicated Florida Power & Light in violations of election law due to alleged attempts to obscure the source of political donations.
At the start of Monday’s earnings call, Ketchum, the chief executive officer of NextEra, addressed media reports and the federal election grievance head-on. “Based on the information we have, we believe FPL would not be held liable for any of the Florida campaign finance law violations as alleged in media reports,” Ketchum said. He added that the company will soon contest the complaint and ask for it to be dismissed.
Silagy will be replaced by Armando Pimentel, a former top executive at NextEra Energy.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reported this story with Mario Ariza of Projectora non-profit newsroom investigating the powerful interests blocking climate action.