Times’ coverage of utilities’ conservation plans slanted and sensationalized, as usual

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The Tampa Bay Times ran a two-thousand word hit job on the state’s three largest electric companies that appears to have all the trappings of award-winning explanatory journalism – a complex topic, lots of numbers and aghast quotes from experts. But scratch beneath the surface and visions of an eleventh Pulitzer Prize quickly fade away.

The hyperbole is palpable throughout: the “stakes are high” because utilities want to “gut” and “slash” conservation goals. If Florida could just be like Vermont (not exactly the most comparable state that comes to mind), “customers could save big bucks” according to a “Times analysis” – the details of which are curiously not shared with readers. The drama is pervasive, but never actually substantiated.

Case in point: The story relies heavily on economist Shawn LeMond, a North Carolina-based “consultant who reviews Duke Energy’s operations,” according to the Times. LeMond blasts utilities’ business model, calling it a “dinosaur” and claiming that consumers “are going to get hosed” because the utilities want to build their own power plants instead of more conservation and renewable energy.

Obviously, this must be true because an unbiased “economist” says its so, right?

Too bad a simple Google search reveals that LeMond is actually managing partner of a company that specializes in taking advantage of incentives for solar and energy efficiency installations. So presumably this is someone who profits, or at least tries to profit, from conservation mandates on utilities. Also, while Mr. Lemond’s online bio says he has a bachelors in economics from North Carolina State, nowhere does he claim to be an “economist” nor does he appear to have credentials fitting one. It seems that the Times alone bestowed the title on him.

There are arguments on all sides of this issue, but sadly, the Times’ coverage is slanted and sensationalized.

If you want a better assessment of the question before utility regulators, read the story by the Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear. It’s no puff piece – it’s straightforward journalism that presents the opposing views and doesn’t insult its readers’ intelligence.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.