Judging by the more than $21 million in contributions made to persuade Floridians to approve Amendment 1, the “solar energy” amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot, there’s a lot at stake.
The amendment, which is primarily bankrolled by Florida’s investor-owned utility companies, would preserve the status quo by placing Florida’s existing laws on solar energy into the state constitution, including the right of residents to own or lease solar energy panels and other equipment and the role of government to regulate. It also sets in the constitution the power of the state and local governments to ensure that the public is not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access for those who install solar equipment.
What’s wrong with that? Plenty, says the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is urging voters to vote No on Amendment 1.
“Amendment 1 is a sham designed by the utilities to turn out the lights on solar in Florida,” said Pamela Goodman, the league’s president. “Florida utilities have raised a staggering $21 million to place this ‘citizen’ amendment on the ballot. With Amendment 4 we saw the enthusiasm Florida voters have for good solar policy, and we urge voters to get the facts and not be fooled by this utility-funded attempt to put their boot on the neck of solar.”
In August, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which protects property owners who install solar panels from tax increases.
The league says utilities are funding Amendment 1 to protect their monopolies and limit customer-owned solar. If the amendment is approved, the league says, it would make it harder to get affordable solar and cripple efforts to build a strong and competitive free market industry in Florida.
All proposed amendments must receive a yes vote from at least 60 percent of voters to pass. Amendment 1 is one of four proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Early voting for the Nov. 8 election is Oct. 24-Nov. 6.
The league also says Amendment 1 is misleading because it promises rights and protections that already exist. Even the name of the group backing the amendment — Consumers for Smart Solar — is deceptive, the league and other opponents say.
But Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for Consumers for Smart Solar, said, “A plain read of Amendment 1 and an exhaustive independent review of it by the state policy and economic experts proves that our opponents’ statements about Amendment 1 are false.
“Amendment 1 simply does three things,” Bascom said. “It ensures consumers’ rights to generate their own solar electricity. It protects consumers from scams and ripoffs like what’s happened in Arizona.” Thirdly, she said, it promotes fairness by allowing government to protect those who don’t choose solar from having to subsidize out-of-state solar operators.
She said it does not preclude any approach to solar energy.
“Amendment 1 does not block ownership of solar. It does not make solar more expensive and it certainly does not discourage people from installing solar. These are outright lies to pull the wool over your eyes for their own benefit,” Bascom said.
Floridians for Solar Choice, a group opposing the amendment, includes the solar energy industry. It has raised a little more than $2 million, about 10 percent of what the utility-backed group has raised.
Tory Perfetti, chairman, Floridians for Solar Choice, said, “Amendment 1 is a cleverly designed attempt to maintain monopoly control over Florida’s energy industry. This amendment is an attempt to manipulate people into falsely believing it is currently illegal to buy or lease solar. It is deplorable that Amendment 1 proponents seek to enshrine Florida’s current, non-competitive, anti-free market solar policy into the state’s constitution.”
In late 2014, Floridians for Solar Choice launched an effort to deregulate the solar market with a proposal that would allow third-party power providers to sell solar excess power generated from their rooftops to nearby neighbors or businesses. The initiative failed when the group could not obtain enough petition signatures to get its proposal on the November ballot.
Floridians for Solar Choice now plans to try to get a measure on the 2018 ballot that would allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of solar power to nearby property owners.
Florida Power & Light Co., spokeswoman Alys Daly said, “Amendment 1 was proposed in response to a former ballot initiative that would have removed all regulation and consumer protection from the solar industry.”
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Two other amendments on the ballot
ON THE BALLOT
AMENDMENT 1: Rights of Electricity Regarding Solar Energy Choice
What the ballot says: 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, safey 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.
What it means: It would place existing solar energy laws into the constitution and preserve the status quo.