Shining Some Sunshine on Solar Amendments

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We live in the Sunshine State. Yet we do not rank anywhere near the top of any list of states utilizing sunshine to create electrical power. Less than 1% of Florida energy is generated by solar sources.

Why is that? The big utilities prefer it that way.

As residents watch their electric meters spin during hot summer days, cringing at what their bill will be, the subject of solar power inevitably comes up. Why is solar power so rare in a state with so much sunshine?

This year’s competing solar amendments are a good example of why efforts to make solar power more accessible and more economical for Floridians has gone nowhere.

It all boils down to this: utility companies are engaged in a $16 million battle to make sure that they are the only ones who profit from any kind of energy sales.

It started with an amendment that didn’t even make the ballot this year. The amendment would have allowed those with solar panels to sell up to 2 megawatts of excess power to their immediate neighbors. When proposed, the lobbying giant that is the Florida utilities feared dozens of renegade electrical utilities sprouting up around the state. The amendment (Solar Choice) was squashed and failed to obtain enough signatures to be on the ballot this fall. Floridians for Solar Choice are already planning to bring that amendment back in 2018.

The utility companies, scared by the Solar Choice amendment, created their own amendment, Smart Solar. See how this amendment business can get confusing? Amendments always have positive sounding names.

The utilities’ amendment, known as Smart Solar, or Amendment 1 on the November ballot, will do two things, its supporters say, 1) grant Florida residents the right to produce their own solar energy and 2) allow state and local governments to protect those who do not utilize solar energy from being forced to subsidize it.

Sounds logical, except that Florida residents already have the right to produce their own solar power. As for protecting those who do not use solar power, that seems to be code for ‘we have to find a way to charge those solar people more.’

Serious solar proponents claim that Amendment 1 will open the door to utilities charging those with solar panels extra fees, under the guise of protecting non-solar customers. In other words, make solar panels even less economically feasible and maintain the utility monopoly on electrical power.

So, Amendment 1 is a bit misleading. So much so that it barely passed (4-3) a Supreme Court review. Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in her 13-page dissenting opinion that Amendment 1 was “masquerading as a pro-solar initiative.”

“The biggest problem with the proposed amendment lies not with what the (ballot) summary says, but rather, with what it does not say,” she wrote. “There is already the right to use solar equipment for individual use afforded by the Florida Constitution and existing Florida statutes and regulations. It does not explain that the amendment will elevate the existing rights of the government to regulate solar energy use and establish that regulatory power as a constitutional right in Florida…This ballot initiative is the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’”

That wolf is supported by Florida utility companies. Over 80% of the $16.3 million raised to support the amendment came from the Big Four of Florida utilities: Gulf Power, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and FPL. If you’re wondering who will benefit from passage of Amendment 1, you’ll find your answer right there.

If you are a fan of affordable solar power, vote NO in NOvember on Amendment 1.

 

Amendment 4

On August 30th, all voters will weigh in on Amendment 4 that will expand property tax exemptions for solar power. Solar panels often add to a property’s value. This amendment will provide a property tax exemption for solar power equipment for residential and commercial property owners.

In contrast to Amendment 1, Amendment 4 hasn’t found any real opposition. The list of individuals, organizations and municipalities that support passage of Amendment 4 is long and varied.

The only hitch may be if voters approve both 1 & 4. In that case, some say that the exemption (#4) could be considered as a benefit to those utilizing solar at the expense of those not and therefore unconstitutional (#1). We did say this was confusing. So let’s make it simple.

If you support wider availability of affordable solar options in the Sunshine State, we join a wide variety of solar proponents and call on voters to remember:

Yes on #4 in August. No on #1 in November.

 

Missy Layfield