Florida voters are being asked to weigh in on a ballot measure Tuesday that sounds perfectly reasonable on its face but is actually bad for solar energy.
The amendment’s sponsor is a group called Consumers for Smart Solar, and its summary declares that it “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.” That part sounds fine, but solar energy advocates point out that Floridians already have that right.
It’s the next part of the measure, which is known as Amendment 1, that makes it pernicious: State and local governments would “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.”
Opponents say that language could be used to allow utilities to add fees for homeowners with solar installations. Utilities have used this tactic in other states as well, arguing that customers who have solar are not paying their fair share for the use of the grid. Amendment 1 critics also say the language would make it harder for Floridians to work with solar leasing companies or to make money if their units produce extra power and send it back to the grid ― the kinds of programs that have allowed solar to really take off in other states.
Solar advocates say Florida’s measure would actually slow the growth of the green power source in a state that has a ton of unused solar potential. While Florida ranks as having the third-highest solar potential, it is 14th in installed solar capacity.
Florida is one of only four states in the country where only utilities are allowed to sell power directly to customers, and solar advocates tried unsuccessfully to get their own measure on this year’s ballot that would have changed that.
Amendment 1 has the backing of the state’s biggest utilities, which have spent $20 million to get it passed.
“Big monopoly utilities ... are trying to trick voters into voting for something they know Floridians want, which is solar,” said Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Smith spoke by phone with The Huffington Post while he was at a St. Petersburg rally for Hillary Clinton with Vice President Joe Biden and singer Jimmy Buffett. Smith was campaigning against Amendment 1.
Last month, the Miami Herald reported that one of the measure’s backers was caught on tape essentially saying the amendment intentionally used “the language of promoting solar” without actually promoting it. Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the James Madison Institute, a “free-market” think tank that supports the measure, argued this was smart because “solar polls very well.”
Even some groups who previously supported the amendment are having second thoughts. The state’s firefighters’ union pulled its support for the measure late last week as well as television ads that promoted it.
The measure also has conservative critics, who say it curbs people’s ability to have energy independence. “They are trying to mislead voters into thinking this is a pro-solar amendment when it’s an anti-solar amendment,” said Debbie Dooley, president of the group Conservatives for Energy Freedom. “It gives the monopolies even more power over the energy needs for average Floridians.”
Dooley is based in Georgia but will spend Election Day in Tampa with others working to get out the vote against Amendment 1. She said the measure’s supporters are trying to “trick voters and deprive them of energy freedom.”
Dooley and Smith said they were both feeling cautiously optimistic the measure won’t pass, noting that numerous editorial boards across the state have come out against it.
“This needs to go down,” said Smith. “This is one of the largest solar markets in the country, and they’ve been using this against solar, trying to hold one of the biggest markets back.”