Florida Power & Light Co. employs three lobbyists in Tallahassee, has 22 more who were paid at least $221,000 combined in the last quarter of 2009 and donates to state political parties - more than $670,000 in the past 15 months
But critics of Florida's largest utility are concerned that those figures don't tell the whole story of FPL's lobbying efforts. They point to the activities of an FPL executive who is meeting with powerful state lawmakers without registering as a lobbyist.
Eric Silagy, an FPL vice president and chief development officer, has discussed energy and utility matters with key state officials, according to legislative staff.
The officials include Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic; Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton; and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole.
Silagy, who leads the utility's renewable energy efforts, also has dropped off booklets to legislators describing the benefits of solar power plants.
FPL denies that Silagy is lobbying for the utility. Paul Hamilton, FPL's vice president for state legislative affairs, leads the lobbying efforts, said utility spokeswoman Jackie Anderson. He and FPL's 24 other lobbyists are registered, she said.
The utility did not respond to questions about how many legislators Silagy met with and who requested the meetings.
Lobbyists are required to register so that Florida residents know who is trying to influence policies.
The Legislature is debating laws that could affect how much customers pay for electricity and the quality of the service.
Anderson said Silagy is talking to legislators as a clean energy expert.
"He is frequently called upon to make presentations around Florida and across the country about FPL's groundbreaking solar projects," Anderson said.
He has briefed President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Bill Nelson, among other state and federal officials, on environmental and renewable energy issues, said Mark Bubriski, an FPL spokesman.
Silagy could not be reached for comment, despite several attempts by phone.
Silagy met Haridopolos in March during the first weeks of the session to discuss utility issues, the senator's aide said.
Last week, Haridopolos announced that he might fight confirmation of two new Public Service Commission members, who voted with the majority to reject all but 6 percent of FPL's record rate increase request this year.
The senator echoed the utility's concerns over the small rate increase during a hearing last week about the commissioners: "When the ability to borrow money becomes more difficult, the interest rate goes up...It's going to eventually cost more for the consumer."
Bennett introduced in January a sweeping renewable energy bill that would allow utilities to pass to customers the costs of renewable energy plants without the normal regulatory scrutiny and allow them to earn an additional profit on such projects.
Silagy stopped by to brief Bennett after the senator asked FPL for information about its solar projects, costs, future and jobs, the utility said. An aide to Bennett said he showed up without an appointment, with an FPL staff lobbyist.
Lobbying costs - including staff salaries - must be paid by shareholders instead of customers, according to state regulations.
Bubriski said Friday that part of Silagy's salary comes from shareholders.
Silagy is one of the 39 officers who were paid an average total compensation of $496,556 by FPL customers in 2008, according to PSC documents.
Silagy's activities raise questions for some observers.
"The PSC should look into this and make sure this is being handled properly in the company's books," said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network.
"If Silagy is meeting with legislators ... on behalf of the company, he is a lobbyist in my opinion," he said. "I am applying the 'If it walks like a duck' test."
Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate with the Florida Public Interest Research Group, said there can be gray areas between lobbying and "educating" legislators.
"If someone is going to lobby for or against legislation, they need to register. But the line blurs between educating a legislator and lobbying them to support or oppose an actual bill with a number," he said. "It definitely smells funny and deserves attention. I'm not so sure there's a violation here though."
Beth Rosenson, an associate political science professor at the University of Florida, said some executives at companies might not register if they feel lobbying is "incidental" to their basic job or if they don't spend most of their time doing it.
Julie Patel can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4667.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun