Coalition of activists team up to oppose utility supported solar power amendment on Florida ballot this fall - Florida Politics

Coalition of activists team up to oppose utility supported solar power amendment on Florida ballot this fall

A coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Green Party members came out on Wednesday to announce their opposition to the next solar power amendment Floridians will vote on this fall.

If passed, Amendment 1 would put existing law regarding the rights of homeowners and businesses to own or lease solar equipment into the state Constitution. Advocates for the measure say it would also provide consumer protections against unscrupulous companies that have taken advantage of solar customers in other states.

On a conference call, the newly formed coalition blasted the measure as an effort by the major utilities to stop rooftop solar and keep a stranglehold on customers by preventing them from generating their own power.

“Amendment 1 is a sham designed by the utilities to turn out the lights on solar in Florida,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Florida utilities have raised a staggering $18 million dollars to place this ‘citizen’ amendment on the ballot. With Amendment 4 we saw the enthusiasm Florida voters have for good solar policy, and we urge voters to get the facts and not be fooled by this utility-funded attempt to put their boot on the neck of solar.”

The political committee behind Amendment One, “Consumers for Smart Solar,” has raised over $18.8 million, with much of that coming from the big four power companies in Florida: Duke Energy, Gulf Power Company, TECO, and Florida Power & Light.

“We believe Amendment 1, initiated by Florida’s for-profit, monopoly utility companies, is intentionally deceptive and intended to trick and confuse Florida voters to make them believe they are supporting solar when, in fact, passing Amendment 1 will irreparably harm rooftop solar and limit their energy choices,” said Patrick Altier, incoming president of the Florida Solar Energy Industry Association and a Florida rooftop solar contractor.

Several of the speakers on the call were part of “Floridians for Solar Choice,” a coalition of conservative and progressive groups who were attempting to get a competing solar power amendment on the Florida ballot this November, but fell far short of getting the necessary signatures to qualify. It was strongly opposed by some of the same utility companies behind Amendment 1. The chairman of “Floridians for Solar Choice,” Tory Perfetti, said they will again take the lead on the measures.

“FSC is actively raising money, small to large donations across the board,” he said. “Our goal is to do whatever we can and is possible to defeat Amendment 1.”

The main funding for the “Floridians for Solar Choice” initial attempt at getting on the state’s Constitution was led by the environmental group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Dr. Stephen Smith, executive director of the group, said Amendment 1 would pave the way for barriers to be created to penalize solar customers, and said observers should follow the money, referring to the utilities’ large investment in the measure.”Why are the utilities spending close to $20 million, unless they wanted to get something for it, and/or cover something up?” Smith asked.

Sarah Bascom is a spokesperson for “Consumers for Smart Solar,” the group behind Amendment 1.

“A plain read of Amendment 1 and an exhaustive independent review of it by the state policy and economic experts proves that our opponents’ statements about Amendment 1 are false,” she said in a statement sent to FloridaPolitics.

“Amendment 1 simply does three things,” Bascom added. “It ensures consumers’ rights to generate their own solar electricity. It protects consumers from scams and ripoffs like what’s happened in Arizona. And it promotes fairness by allowing government to protect those who don’t choose solar from having to subsidize out-of-state solar operators. It does not preclude any approach to solar energy. The real questions are why would anyone oppose Amendment 1, and who are the secret funders of those campaigning against this good pro-solar, pro-consumer amendment? ”

Amendment 1 states that, “state and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

“There is no factual basis for that,” said Smith about that specific passage in the proposal, citing studies done in other states which he said proves that statement is not factually accurate. “The utilities and their proxies are parroting this line in an effort to weakly bring punitive and discriminative charges against customers who have solar in the future,” he said.

The proof, Smith said, was that language mirrors what the utilities said to the Public Service Commission in the summer of 2015 when they argued against net metering. “We see this language as being the mechanism to be used in the future to undermine the solar market,” he said.

Last week, Floridians up and down the state overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4, which provides property tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their homes, as well as removing the state’s “tangible personal property tax,” which taxes solar equipment installed on properties. The measure had little organized opposition.

That isn’t the case with Amendment 1. The ballot language was narrowly approved by the Florida Supreme Court in the spring by a 4-3 vote.

Opponents of Amendment 1 cite this passage from dissenting Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who wrote, “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

Amendment 1 supporters counter with this passage from the four-member majority in its decision in approving the ballot language.

“We find that the title and summary clearly and unambiguously inform the voter that the amendment will establish a constitutional right for electricity consumers to ‘own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use’ while simultaneously retaining the government’s ability to regulate that right.”

The Court also disagreed with the notion that the approval of Amendment 1 locks in what is already established in the state Constitution. “Nothing in the state Constitution currently provides electricity customers with the specific right to ‘own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.'” the majority wrote.

 

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.
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