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Clean energy alliance skeptical of Energy Choice amendment

Measure could deliver uncertain future for solar power, group says.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy won’t support a proposed Florida Energy Choice amendment. In fact, the group says the ballot measure could ultimately reduce solar power use in the Sunshine State.

“Our ‘thread the needle’ philosophy here is to advocate for deep reform, but in a way that does not derail Florida’s current solar development pipeline,” write SACE executive director Stephen Smith.

While the organization remains concerned about utility monopolies in Florida, Smith writes that the proposed constitutional amendment won’t cure that problem.

“The proposed ballot amendment would force open the utility power market (creating a ‘wholesale market’) and give customers choice of electricity suppliers (creating a ‘retail market’),” he writes.

“The meters, wires, storm response, and other similar services would remain the responsibility of local monopoly utilities.”

But this particular ballot measure seems on track to qualify by petition for the 2020 ballot. As of today, Citizens for Energy Choices has gathered almost 146,000 valid petitions. It needs 766,200.

That sparked parties in Florida to start taking sides early. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced in March she would challenge the amendment.

Meanwhile, smaller companies wanting to bring power to consumers have championed the measure. Powervine CEO Bill Kinneary, for example, said similar deregulation worked well in Texas and Georgia.

SACE has called for more power options and said current regulations limit consumers who want independent solar power.

“We do support reforms to expand the power generation market, such as a more competitive solar bidding process,” Smith wrote.

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But choices can exist without tearing existing power sources apart, Smith suggested.

“Admittedly, SACE has both advocated for policy changes that would make Florida’s power markets more competitive,” Smith wrote, “while endorsing steps by the investor-owned utilities to move solar deployment quickly and to scale.”

But as Florida sees an expansion of solar power, including work done by Florida Power & Light to build more solar farms, now doesn’t seem the right time for the Energy Choice amendment.

“By 2024, we forecast that solar will provide approximately 10 percent of Florida’s power generation capacity and supply about 5 percent of Florida’s electricity,” he wrote.

Besides the potential of knocking solar power off-track, Smith also said the amendment offers a rosy picture that may be legislatively impossible.

“We have no way to know how the Florida legislature would move to implement the current ballot proposal,” Smith wrote.

“It is possible, but uncertain, that after the dust settles on the new rules of a restructured market in Florida, independent solar developers could begin to deploy significant solar resources.”

As the measure moves forward, Smith said he will watch how public debate evolves and continue analysis.

“We strongly encourage both sides of this emerging debate to bring solid factual information to the public and decision-makers, and avoid hyperbolic rhetoric that does little to advance good policy outcomes,” he wrote.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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