Solar Flare

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If Fort Myers Beach residents could tap into the raw energy of Rick Vaske, they would not need solar or any other power source to light their homes; his sheer presence would electrify your house 24/7!

Rick spoke at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon on Thursday, October 13, at Charley’s Boathouse Grill. He exhorted the roughly 40 people in attendance to vote against Amendment 1 on Tuesday, November 8.

Amendment 1 is The Florida State Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use statewide constitutional initiative that requires a supermajority of 60% to pass. Whether you are for or against his opinion, however, Rick’s enthusiasm was contagious.

He is the Director of Operations at Advance Solar & Spa, Inc., serving Sarasota to Marco Island on the Gulf Coast and West Palm Beach to Miami on Florida’s east flank, as well as owning a T-shirt printing company on Metro Parkway and two radio stations, among other enterprises.

“The solar industry took a turn for the better approximately four years ago, when panels and equipment became more efficient and affordable,” he explained. “Solar is a marathon, not a sprint; it does not pay for itself in the first year or the first few years, but rooftop panels will substantially reduce your energy costs, and that is what solar is all about. It is ready to grow in Florida, to allow customers to generate their own power and buy less from the utilities. Solar, however, will never make you independent of the electric companies.”

 

A Wolf in Sheep’s Skin

Rick finds it sad that the Sunshine State ranks 13th in the nation in solar panel installation, behind places like New Jersey, and faults leadership in Tallahassee. “This fight has been going on a long time and reached a new level several years back when utilities organized ‘Consumers for Smart Solar.’ Even I applaud them their crafty marketing; that moniker makes you feel good and sounds like they are on your side. What they really are is a wolf in sheep’s skin!”

A vote “for” Amendment 1 supports adding a section to the state constitution giving Florida residents the right to own or lease solar power equipment for personal use while enacting constitutional protection for any state or local law ensuring residents who do not produce solar energy can abstain from subsidizing its production.

A vote “against” opposes constitutionalizing the right to own or lease solar equipment and the protection of laws preventing subsidization of solar energy, thereby leaving personal use of solar power protected as a right by state statute and not the constitution.

Amendment 1 critics charge that proponents included the provision protecting the right to solar energy production to make it look pro-solar even though it reduces its use. The amendment’s controversial wording, in fact, only gained Florida State Supreme Court approval by a narrow 4 to 3 decision. Consumers for Smart Solar recently received the first “Deceptive Language Award” from The Clear Language Institute, for Amendment 1’s use of “deceptive language to purposely mislead voters” into thinking it supports expanding solar energy when the opposite is true.

 

Follow The Money

Opponents say Amendment 1 has almost exclusive financial backing from public utilities, will extend their control over solar production while limiting consumer solar production, will potentially prohibit the practice of “net” metering, creates a monopoly to keep entities other than large utilities from leasing solar panels to homes and businesses, and is unnecessary and misleading because it will provide rights and protections already afforded Florida residents.

Net metering connects solar panels to a public utility grid to transfer surplus power, allowing customers to offset the cost of power drawn from the utility.

“You already have the right to own solar,” Rick reinforces. “The amendment language says homeowners will not subsidize non-solar owners but your rates will not go up if you do not have it. The ability for utility companies to regulate lease agreements will shut down private solar firms and create a monopoly for them. They can eliminate net metering, control rates and author interconnection agreements. You love solar and put panels on your roof to lower your electric bill, but the homeowner will never receive the financial benefit because power companies write the interconnection agreement. For example, if you produce $140 worth of solar power, your interconnection fee is $140. Where there is power, there will always be a power struggle.”

Rick says another brilliant public relations move by the utilities is to have Amendment 1 on the November 8 ballot because “it can piggyback off the August primary passage of Amendment 4 that provides property tax exemptions for solar equipment and is a true solar power initiative that won with 73% of the vote.”

Florida’s largest utility companies back Amendment 1. As of early October, Consumers for Smart Solar raised roughly $21.9 million, with $18 million from the state’s four largest public utilities: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Company. This is ten times the amount of the opposition group, Floridians for Solar Choice. Of Florida’s 86 independent solar companies, none supports Amendment 1.

The amendment would add to the constitution the untrue assumption that solar customers receive subsidization from non-solar ones who need additional protection, say opponents. Solar users, however, provide a net-benefit for all electricity consumers. Large utilities want to limit privately-owned solar and use this false claim to implement unfair fees and discriminatory penalties that make solar more expensive, limit its expansion and hurt customers by denying them lower power bills.

To summarize, about the only ones urging residents to vote yes are the utility companies of Florida. Those who want to expand the availability and use of solar power urge voters to say NO to Amendment 1 on Tuesday, November 8.

 

Gary Mooney