If Floridians are able to vote next year on a constitutional amendment regarding solar power, it will come only after much of the state’s establishment fought against that opportunity.
In addition to top state officials and the largest power utilities in Florida, the proposal is opposed by the Florida League of Cities.
Attorney General Pam Bondi and several of the biggest power utilities have challenged the constitutionality of the proposed amendment. It would allow businesses to sell up to 2 megawatts of power to customers on their property or properties that neighbor them.
The League of Cities opposition has angered some locally elected officials across the state.
“I’m not surprised by Pam Bondi, but I am disappointed by the staff with the League of Cities,” St. Petersburg City Councilman Karl Nurse said, one of more than a dozen officeholders to contact the League of Cities in a letter sent to the organization Tuesday.
Cindy Lerner, mayor of the Miami-Dade County city of Pinecrest, said the League’s decision comes as a shock since many local governments throughout the state have actually supported resolutions endorsing the solar power amendment.
“It’s very unfortunate that it seems to have been staff driven ” Lerner says of the decision, noting that neither the League’s board (which she serves on) nor its executive board ever voted on the issue.
Other elected officials to put their name on the letter include Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard and St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice. It cites concerns about both the process of the League taking such an action, as well as with the substance of the brief itself.
“We, the undersigned members of the Florida League of Cities find that the submission of the brief was filed outside of the appropriate League protocol and that the arguments presented in the brief are alarmist, unsupported and speculative. As such, we call for the League to withdraw the initial brief filed with the Court,” the letter reads.
“As a threshold matter, such legal filings should be subject to a vote of the League and should moreover be reviewed and approved by the environment and energy committee. Neither was done in this case, and we are left wondering whether League members or the staff is driving the filing of the opposition brief to the solar amendment,” it continues.
But the League counters that it’s not out of the ordinary for them to take such actions.
“We have supported solar energy for a long time,” said John Thomas, senior director for membership and public affairs with the League of Cities. “We have a history of supporting it, and as well meaning as this proposal is, there are some problems with it, and we wanted to point those problems out. And the forum that was available at this time is through the courts.”
Florida is one of four states that prohibits residents from buying electricity from any source other than a utility. The group leading the effort, Floridians for Solar Choice, argues that the state’s policy limits customer choice and blocks the growth of solar energy as a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to coal-fired power plants and other carbon-based methods.
Thomas defended his organization filing a legal brief with the court this month, saying, “Lots of times the window for filing a brief with the court doesn’t jibe with the opportunity for our board of directors to make a decision on a constitutional amendment.” The League’s brief was submitted to the Court on June 10. He said there will be opportunities for League members next month at their annual conference in Orlando.
Pinecrest Mayor Lerner said she intends to submit a resolution at that time that will ask the League to reconsider and withdraw its legal brief opposing the measure, or at least stay neutral.
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Sept. 1. If the court allows the proposal, supporters will have to gather nearly 700,000 approved petition signatures in order to get the measure on the ballot for the November 2016 election.