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Economy / Business

Ballot Proposal Seeks More Solar in Sunshine State


Businesses and property owners would be able to sell a limited amount of solar energy under a ballot initiative rolled out Wednesday by a coalition that brings together free-market conservatives, retailers and alternative-energy supporters.

The proposed constitutional amendment is expected to face opposition from large power companies, which offered little comment Wednesday.

Backers of the initiative said during a news conference in Tallahassee that they are using the constitutional amendment route because well-funded utilities have repeatedly lobbied the Legislature and the Florida Public Service Commission against expanding solar and other alternative-energy choices.

"Using a constitutional amendment to the ballot is not the best way to make energy policy," said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "But if the system is broken, and we have no other way to actually get good policy in the state and allow such a positive thing as solar power to flourish, then we have to take it straight to the people."

Tory Perfetti, chairman of the coalition dubbed "Floridians for Solar Choice," said it remains to be seen how the utilities will react to the ballot drive, but he expects they will mount a sizable opposition.

In addition to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the coalition includes the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, the Christian Coalition of America, the Libertarian Party of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida.

Smith estimated that the coalition might have to raise $8 million to $10 million to counter the anticipated opposition.

"If we can get this thing on the ballot, it will pass," said Alexander Snitker, vice president of the Libertarian Party of Florida. "Who is the opposition? The opposition is the people who are profiting off the current monopoly they have right now."

Asked about the proposed amendment, Duke Energy Florida spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email Wednesday that solar and other renewable sources will be an important part of Florida's energy future.

"We are committed to energy policies where solar options are fair and beneficial to all of our customers," Ivey said in the email. "Our 4,000 Florida employees will continue to work hard every day to ensure we are providing reliable and safe electricity to our 1.7 million customers."

A spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light declined to comment.

The amendment, in part, would allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of power to customers on the same or neighboring properties.

Smith estimated that the two-megawatt total would cover the daily use at a typical Wal-Mart.

The initiative, which was filed Dec. 23 with the Department of State, will require Floridians for Solar Choice to get the signatures of roughly 700,000 voters to get on the November 2016 ballot. Also, the ballot language would have to be approved by the state Supreme Court.

The press conference came less than two months after the Public Service Commission narrowly accepted a controversial staff recommendation that will reduce overall energy-efficiency goals for power companies.

The changes to the energy-efficiency standards didn't go as far as FPL, Duke, Tampa Electric Co., Gulf Power Co. and JEA in Jacksonville had requested, but utility officials called the staff-backed changes "realistic."

Utility officials have argued that the economic advantage of conservation has waned as reliance on natural gas has grown and that the state's solar-rebate program has not attracted widespread use.

FPL's solar-installation program has been used by about 900 of its 4.7 million customers at a cost of $16.5 million over the past three years. Last year, Duke spent $1.4 million for solar programs, which were approved for about 150 of its 1.7 million customers.


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