Opinion: Why critics of the ‘Solar Amendment' say it doesn't help consumers

Julia Jenae is on your side. 10/26/2016

One controversial topic early voters are seeing on the ballot this election season is Florida Amendment 1. Doing more to harness the sun’s energy to create power keeps emerging as an important topic to voters across party lines.

Critics of Amendment 1’s solar energy choice recommendations question who is actually behind the proposed change.

The amendment has two parts, and the first sounds very pro-solar. 

(a)    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.

Amendment opponents say this part is misleading because those rights are already protected under state law. When the Florida Supreme Court approved the amendment language in a 4-3 vote, a dissenting justice Barbara Pariente called the amendment a masquerade.

“The ballot summary does not make clear that the right of homeowners to own solar equipment for their own home already exists,” Pariente wrote. “As a result it creates a false impression that a vote in favor of the amendment is necessary for the voter to be afforded the right at all.”

The second part of the amendment says that consumers won’t subsidize backup power for non-solar users.

(b)    State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety 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.

Constitutional Amendment Petition Form: http://dos.elections.myflorida.com/initiatives/fulltext/pdf/64817-1.pdf

In Florida, those with installed solar panels have a right to sell the electricity they harness back to the utility company for other customers to use. JEA calls it their net-metering program.

Environmental groups worry the language in Part B could block private residents or small solar companies from being able to sell excess electricity created by their solar panels to the utility company or other consumers. The amendment would make state and local government the only agencies that can sell power.

Supporters of the amendment say they are looking out for public health and safety. Opponents say the policy is being backed by utility companies seeking to monopolize the solar industry.

The Miami Herald reported on audio leaked by Exposed CMD that captured the vice president of the James Madison Institute, Sal Nuzzo, giving strategy suggestions on how companies in the audience could get a law changed.

Link to leaked audio from State Energy/Environment Leadership Summit: https://soundcloud.com/cmd-sourcewatch

“You guys, look at policy in your state or constitutional ballots in your state and remember this,” Nuzzo says. “Solar polls very well. To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they're kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit, use the language of promoting solar, and kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”

A vote yes on Nov. 8 would make this amendment part of the Florida Constitution, and likely create hurdles for those using or planning to use solar panels to make money. A vote no would leave the state protections on solar energy the way they are, and probably only the major utility companies would be complaining.

(© 2016 WTLV)


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