In what solar advocates are calling a “David and Goliath battle,” a bipartisan grassroots coalition has successfully defeated a utility-supported measure to put restrictions on solar in the state of Florida.
The measure was voted down on Tuesday night, failing to win the 60 percent support it needed to pass. The loss comes despite more than $25 million in backing from large energy companies, with an additional $3.5 million pumped into the campaign days ago. Major contributors include Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest electric utility, and Duke Energy, the second-largest utility.
The coalition opposing the measure, Floridians for Solar Choice, is made up of solar companies, environmental organizations, Tea Party groups and elected officials. Florida is a significant new solar market because of its attractive solar resources and support for solar across party lines.
Floridians for Solar Choice was the first group to launch a solar ballot initiative in Florida for the 2016 election, in which the group sought to allow for third-party solar power agreements. Currently, Florida law only allows utilities to sell electricity to consumers. The Solar Choice amendment would have removed that limitation, opening up the market to competition.
However, as support for third-party agreements gained traction, utilities poured millions of dollars into a new political action group, Consumers for Smart Solar, which launched Amendment 1 to counteract the Solar Choice movement. In December 2015, the ballot initiative led by the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition was abandoned, failing to collect the necessary number of signatures in time to advance the measure. Perfetti and others blamed the Amendment 1 backers for using intentionally misleading language and spending millions of dollars to defeat the pro-solar amendment.
The $25 million in the campaign budget would suggest this ballot was considered a significant strategic priority for Florida’s utilities.
Amendment 1 was written with language that made it seem focused on expanding solar access in the Sunshine State. But in reality, the amendment would have simply affirmed the right to own and lease solar in Florida — a right consumers already have. The ballot would also have preserved the monopoly held by utilities and continued to block third-party competitors.
Furthermore, Amendment 1 would create “constitutional protection for any state or local law ensuring that residents who do not produce solar energy can abstain from subsidizing its production.” In practice, this means that the utility could block any policy it believes is creating a cost shift between customers.
If passed, Amendment 1 would have put a damper on potential solar growth in the Sunshine State. It also would have been precedent-setting — taking issues related to distributed energy compensation outside of the traditional regulatory process where proposals are subject to expert scrutiny.
The referendum sponsor, State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), said he considers Amendment 4 to be a catalyst for the Florida market. But Thomasson underscored that the work on Amendment 4 isn’t complete — the measure still needs to be introduced and approved by the state legislature. With Amendment 1 behind them, Florida’s pro-solar groups will now shift their attention to ensuring that Amendment 4 is implemented swiftly, said Thomasson.
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