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Solar amendment showdown goes to court

As promised, the backers of one proposed solar-power constitutional amendment have filed a legal brief opposing the other and asked for oral argument.

Floridians for Solar Choice, supported by the solar industry and business and consumer interests, on Monday filed its opposition brief against the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar.

Its attorneys advanced the filing earlier in the day at a news conference.

Among other requirements, proposed amendments to the state constitution must be OK’d by the Florida Supreme Court to ensure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

The opposition brief‘s summary of argument says Consumers for Smart Solar’s amendment should be denied ballot placement, in part because its ballot title and summary “confuse and mislead voters by suggesting the amendment somehow relates to the ability of the consumer to exercise a right to make a ‘solar energy choice’ when none is granted.”

The amendment from Floridians for Solar Choice has already been approved by the court, but its backers are saving it for the 2018 ballot, concerned they won’t reach the requisite 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1. That amendment reported 274,582 valid signatures as of Monday and current signatures will remain valid till the next statewide ballot.

“Consumers currently have the right under the Florida Constitution and by law to own or lease solar equipment installed on their own property to generate electricity for their own use,” the opposition brief says.

“When the summary purports that the amendment establishes this right, (it) creates a ‘false impression’ among voters, misleading them to believe that they must vote in favor of the amendment in order to have rights already afforded to them.”

Indeed, “the term ‘solar choice’ in the ballot title impermissibly … hides the ball regarding the amendment’s true effect,” it says.

“The ballot language is also defective because the summary tells voters that, if the amendment is adopted, local governments will retain their ability to protect consumers who do not install solar equipment from having to subsidize ‘backup power’ and electric grid access for those that do,” the brief continues.

“However, the vast majority of local governments lack the authority to address electric rate subsidies or grid access, and therefore, a voter could be misled to think a vote for the … amendment is necessary to preserve an existing power of his or her city or county which simply does not exist.”

Other groups filed briefs in support of the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment, including the 60 Plus Association, a conservative alternative to AARP. 60 Plus also has contributed to the group.

The Smart Solar amendment also is backed by the state’s investor-owned utilities, including Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power Co., and Tampa Electric Co.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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