Florida’s Solar Amendment 1: A Trick Or A Treat?

Joseph Bebon
Written by Joseph Bebon
on October 27, 2016 1 Comment
Categories : Featured, Policy Watch

When reading the language of Florida’s solar-related ballot measure, Amendment 1, you might think the amendment is pretty solar friendly. It mentions rights for homeowners to install or lease their own solar projects and cites consumer protection. Surely, the proposal must be good for the state’s solar market, right?

If so, then why have local and national solar advocates launched a massive campaign against the measure? Even Jimmy Buffett, the iconic singer/songwriter and leader of “parrot heads” around the world, has publicly condemned Amendment 1.

“This solar power amendment – you’ve heard a lot about it, I’ve read a lot about it,” said Buffett in a recent YouTube video. “It’s obvious what’s going on there. We’ve been enjoying the sun for most of our lives living in Florida. Now it’s time to use it right and use it for everybody’s benefit. That is why I am voting ‘no’ on 1.” (In the video, available below, the music legend also threw his support behind an amendment related to medical marijuana.)

In August, Florida solar supporters celebrated a victory after voters overwhelmingly approved a different ballot measure, Amendment 4, during the state’s primary election. That amendment helps pave the way for an extension of beneficial tax policies to the commercial and industrial solar sector. Immediately following that policy win, solar supporters doubled down on their lobbying efforts and have been trying to get the word out that Amendment 1, which will be on the state’s general election ballot in November, is a dark cloud hovering over the Sunshine State.

Titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” the Amendment 1 ballot measure says the following: “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. 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. The amendment is not expected to result in an increase or decrease in any revenues or costs to state and local government.”

Solar rights, no cost increases – it doesn’t sound so bad, huh? In fact, Consumers for Smart Solar, the group that proposed Amendment 1, says on its website that the measure “promotes solar” in the state and “protects Florida consumers from scams, rip-offs and unfair subsidies.”

However, Floridians for Solar Choice, a grassroots group that is leading the fight against the measure, argues Amendment 1 is a small paragraph that could cause big trouble in the state. In a document on its website, the group charges that the measure is purposely deceitful and “funded by Florida’s big utilities to protect their monopoly markets and limit customer-owned solar.”

According to a Miami Herald report, the utility industry has pumped over $20 million into supporting the amendment. Furthermore, the article cites an audio recording of an executive from a Florida think tank. In the recording, Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the James Madison Institute (JMI), indicated that the think tank worked with Consumers for Smart Solar and suggested amendment backers strategically deceived consumers by presenting Amendment 1 as a pro-solar measure.

He said the proposed state constitutional amendment was “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they [pro-solar interests] would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road,” according to the report. The article notes that JMI’s executive director later said Nuzzo “misspoke,” and a Consumers for Smart Solar spokesperson contended that the group “did not engage or hire or ask JMI to do research regarding the effort.”

Regardless of that particular he said/she said situation, Floridians for Solar Choice argues that the amendment “misleads Florida voters by promising rights and protections that Florida citizens already have.”

“Floridians already have the right to purchase or lease solar equipment and are already fully protected under Florida’s existing consumer protection laws,” the group says. “The false promises of additional rights are designed to gain support for the amendment, not to grow the solar market in Florida.”

The biggest issue with Amendment 1 is the measure’s undefined term “subsidize.” Throughout the U.S., many utilities have long argued that some solar policies, especially net energy metering, are subsidies that unfairly burden non-solar customers. Some studies, however, have found that rooftop solar customers actually provide net benefits to utilities and the grid.

Floridians for Solar Choice says the amendment “paves the way” for future problems by adding to Florida’s constitution “the false assumption that solar customers are ‘subsidized’ by non-solar customers and that non-solar customers are in need of additional protections.”

The group charges that the Florida utilities “will use this false claim as a justification to implement unfair fees and discriminatory penalties for solar customers.” On its website, advocacy group Vote Solar calls Amendment 1 a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and says the measure would give utilities a better chance to “dismantle” net metering in Florida.

Early voting has already begun in Florida, and solar advocates are working tirelessly to inform voters that this seemingly pro-solar amendment is anything but.

“Floridians are being presented with a poisoned apple in the form of a confusing and misleading anti-solar amendment,” said Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, in a recent press release issued by Floridians for Solar Choice. “Amendment 1 restricts the freedom of Floridians to go solar and leaves them at the mercy of monopoly utilities. The right vote for solar is to vote NO on Amendment 1.” In addition to Kimbis and Buffett, the release shows over 185 leaders, groups and businesses openly oppose the amendment.

Will the solar advocates’ efforts prove successful, or will the utility-backed amendment pass? We will all know soon enough – election day is Nov. 8.

Comments

  1. It is an interesting article. On one hand, Solar is very expensive. Unless it is subsidized by tax payers, the average person couldn’t afford it. Currently we have a 30% tax credit on the federal level. I don’t know what Florida offers as incentives to their residents.

    If its true on how the that amendment was written, I would be interested to know how the incentives from Florida would work?

    It is a growing trend that federal and state governments are lowering tax credits and incentives in the next few years, Pushing the industry to stand on its own feet without upfront incentives or tax credits.

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