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Bob Graham says passage of Amendment 1 could affect the solar initiative passed in August

According to a poll published Monday, Florida’s Amendment 1 on solar power is on the ropes.

While the St. Leo University survey shows the measure almost exactly at 60 percent — the percentage required to pass and ultimately become law — it’s down more than 24 percentage points from a similar poll conducted in September. The survey of 1,028 likely voters was conducted online from Oct. 22-26, and has accuracy of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Since its creation earlier this year, the amendment has consistently received strong support in public opinion polls.

Proponents of the measure say Amendment 1 will constitutionally guarantee individuals and businesses the right to buy or lease solar equipment to produce their own energy. It also gives solar customers the ability to sell any excess electricity that they generate back into the electric grid. And that it will protects Florida consumers from scams, overcharging, and unfair subsidies.

Opponents argue the amendment’s language is deceptive, and this survey indicates their opposition may finally be breaking through in the last week of the campaign.

“This movement away from support for Amendment 1 is a sign that the social media campaign is working,” said Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.

“I think it’s amazing with $26 million having been spent on this campaign, that’s where it is today,” said former Florida Democratic Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham about the measure being so close in the St. Leo survey. Speaking on a conference call Tuesday, Graham said he’s seen other polls where support for the measure appears to be declining, and he attributed that to “people looking behind the false statements that have been made.”

According to the Florida Division of Elections, more than $25 million has been spent on the measure to date, with most of that money coming from major public utilities like Florida Power & Light, Tampa Electric, Duke Energy, and Gulf Power.

“It is natural for polling numbers on ballot issues to get closer as Election Day approaches,” said Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for Consumers for Smart Solar. “That is why we planned from the onset to run a robust campaign in support of Amendment 1.”

Graham also said passage of Amendment 1 would negate the impact of Amendment 4, another solar power constitutional amendment that passed statewide with 73 percent of the vote in August. That measure said building solar installations on commercial buildings would not be subjected to property tax assessment increases. Graham said Amendment 1 would “encourage” a tax increase.

“Let’s say that it would save the average person of a $20,000 unit probably somewhere between $50-$100,” he explained. “But if the Legislature or the Public Service Commission were to pass a requirement that there be a $100 fee charged annually against your solar panels because that would counterbalance the subsidization that solar is receiving, you would eliminate whatever incentive Amendment 4 was intended to provide for increased use of solar on commercial buildings.”

Graham said the passage of Amendment 1 could duplicate what has happened in Nevada, where there has been a large decline in the installation of solar after the state passed legislation giving the Nevada Public Utilities Commission the authority to create a new class of utility customers that use solar panels to generate power. Bloomberg reports it also granted the Nevada PUC the right to increase fees for these customers’ usage of the power grid.

“A simple read of Amendment 1 proves that these statements are not correct,” Consumers for Smart Solar’s Bascom said upon reading Graham’s quotes. “Amendment 1 has no effect on Amendment 4.”

 

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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