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Florida Voted Against A Controversial Solar Energy Bill

The amendment would allow power companies to charge solar customers to pay back the money they saved.

by Meredith Rutland Bauer
Oct 14 2016, 5:11pm

Solar panels. Image: US Navy/Wikimedia

Updated, November 9, 2016: Florida residents voted down an amendment that would have put the state's access to solar power into the hands of energy companies. Amendment 1 was denied after the pro-amendment vote only generated 51 percent—far short of the 60 percent in favor it needed to pass. A total of 49 percent of the electorate voted no on the measure, indicating few voters left that measure blank. The measure was worded as a pro-solar power effort but decried by renewable energy and environmental groups as an effort by power companies to wrestle control of renewable energy away from residents.

The Sunshine State seems like the perfect place for solar power. But a state amendment would have restricted residents' access to solar power if passed this November.

The first amendment on the state ballot would have established a consumers' rights to own or lease solar panels on their property to generate electricity for their own use. This sounds like a good thing on the surface, but green energy advocates have largely opposed this amendment. They say some of the language actually restricts consumers' ability to use solar panels, and allows power companies to charge solar customers fees to subsidize the rest of the power grid for non-solar users.

The ballot amendment comes at a time when states are grappling with how to regulate solar energy. Some states, like California, are pushing for large-scale integration of solar electricity as a way to fight climate change. Others are worried about what solar power means for their traditional fossil fuel-driven electricity industries.

Pro-amendment groups in Florida argued the change would guarantee consumers' right to own solar panels—though it's already protected via state statute—by putting it into the state constitution. It's worth noting that the pro-amendment group, Consumers for Smart Solar, is largely funded by utility companies with major consumer bases in Florida, such as Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light Company and others, the Energy and Policy Institute revealed last fall. Their campaign, "Yes on 1 For the Sun," was also backed by groups with financial interests in the power sector, such as Gulf Power, ExxonMobile and the Koch brothers.

Meanwhile, opponents said the language of the amendment would prohibit consumers from using third-party solar panels, which make up a majority of the market nationwide. That, they argued, would allow utility companies to control all leasing of solar panels in the state. Opponents worried this could allow utility companies to charge fees on solar power and could refuse to buy back power from solar customers who produce more electricity than they use—which goes against current law. This could also have slowed down growth in the solar sector.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente warned the amendment was "a wolf in sheep's clothing," in a court dissent following a ruling related to the amendment.

"Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida's major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo."

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