Florida Supreme Court to rule on controversial utility-backed solar ballot measure

Florida supreme court solar ruling

With the solar industry increasing at such a rapid pace, you’d assume “The Sunshine State” would be just exploding with installations. But that hasn’t been the case, and depending on how the state handles a new amendment that’s been proposed, it might never be the case. Basically, the Florida Supreme Court is hearing arguments this week on a possible ballot measure that would amend the state’s constitution to give utilities a ton of control over the state’s adoption of solar energy from here on out. Its role is to determine whether or not the wording of the amendment is deceptive. Early word back is that the court is currently split.

Amendment 1 was created by Consumers for Smart Solar, which sounds great, until you realize the group is financed by state utility companies and other conservative groups. A competing, solar industry-backed measure from the Floridians for Solar Choice did not get enough signatures for ballot inclusion.

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Like any bill or regulation that earns the “utility-backed” qualifier, this amendment would cement current state policies that currently favor the objectives of the utility and, as is the trend, remove the teeth of net metering, which all but stops any real residential rooftop industry from taking shape. The amendment does this with this wording:

State and local governments shall retain their abilities … 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.

Such wording gives license to increase fees for grid access to solar customers to the point that having a system makes little economic sense. The amendment also says that every consumer “has the right to own or lease equipment installed on their property,” but that’s technically always been the case, except consumers cannot lease from a third-party, like SolarCity. This amendment would only solidify that system, not supplant it.

The amendment in question seems to have the support of the voters, too, as it received the number of signatures necessary to be placed on the ballot, and recent polls in state show as high as 75 percent of respondents in favor of it. So, maybe it is what the people want. However, the state Supreme Court is involved to review whether the characterization of the measure matches what is actually there.

From the Sun Sentinel:

The Supreme Court will rule on the proposed ballot wording, rather than the merits of the initiative. Justices will look at whether the ballot wording is limited to a single subject and unambiguous and that the summary meets a 75-word limit. The court did not announce when it will make a decision. If it approves, the initiative would go on the November ballot.

For more background on why Florida is already lagging in an industry it should be dominating, we turn to Rolling Stone:

Key policies that have spurred a rooftop solar revolution elsewhere in America are absent or actually illegal in Florida. Unlike the majority of states, even Texas, Florida has no mandate to generate any portion of its electricity from renewable power. Worse, the state’s restrictive monopoly utility law forbids anyone but the power companies from buying and selling electricity. Landlords cannot sell power from solar panels to tenants. Popular solar leasing programs like those offered by SolarCity and Sunrun are outlawed. Rooftop solar is limited to those who can afford the upfront expense; as a result, fewer than 9,000 Florida homes have panels installed.

 

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