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Supreme Court reschedules oral argument for ‘Smart Solar’ amendment

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday rescheduled oral arguments for a hotly-contested proposed constitutional amendment on solar power.

Arguments are now set for 11 a.m. on March 7, the court announced, with no more than 30 minutes allowed for each side.

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

The amendment in question, called “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” is backed by Consumers For Smart Solar.

The proposed summary now reads:

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. 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.

Two groups backing competing solar amendments had been battling for placement on the ballot.

Floridians for Solar Choice, supported by the solar industry and business and consumer interests, had filed an opposition brief against the utility-supported Consumers for Smart Solar.

Its summary reads:

Limits or prevents government and electric utility imposed barriers to supplying local solar electricity. Local solar electricity supply is the non utility supply of solar generated electricity from a facility rated up to 2 megawatts to customers at the same or contiguous property as the facility. Barriers include government regulation of local solar electricity suppliers’ rates, service and territory, and unfavorable electric utility rates, charges, or terms of service imposed on local solar electricity customers.

The amendment from Floridians for Solar Choice already has been approved by the court, but its backers are saving it for the 2018 ballot because they did not reach the required 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1.

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.”

“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,” it says.

The Smart Solar amendment 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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