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Economy / Business

Solar Ballot Measure Faces Powerful Opposition


The state's largest electric utilities, Attorney General Pam Bondi and a number of influential business groups want the Florida Supreme Court to block a proposed solar-energy ballot initiative.

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power filed a joint brief Wednesday arguing the proposed ballot language by a coalition known as Floridians for Solar Choice would be "misleading" to voters.

"The proposed amendment fails in several respects to meet basic standards that are intended to protect voters from being misled or confused," FPL said in a prepared statement. "Indeed, the amendment's language is largely unclear, but one thing is certain: It would amount to an unprecedented constitutional ban on consumer protection."

Bondi also filed a brief seeking to keep the initiative off the November 2016 ballot and said the measure, "as written, will leave voters uninformed and consumers vulnerable."

"As a large and growing state, Florida needs a diverse energy portfolio that includes solar energy, however, the proposed constitutional amendment mandates major changes in existing law, using language that is unclear and misleading,'' she said in a prepared statement.

Floridians for Solar Choice, which also submitted a brief to the court Wednesday, maintained its proposal and a needed financial-impact statement meet legal requirements.

"We expected that the petition would upset the status-quo and generate opposition, however, we believe that briefs filed by opponents don't present a viable threat to the success of our effort to bring free market principles and consumer choice to all Floridians," Floridians for Solar Choice Chairman Tory Perfetti said in a release. "Florida's families and businesses deserve to have more choices as to how they power their homes and businesses. The campaign continues to gather support and signatures and looks forward to having voters decide on removing barriers to solar choice in Florida."

The court will hear arguments Sept. 1 about whether the initiative should go before voters next year. If the court signs off, supporters of the initiative will need to submit 683,149 valid petition signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Floridians for Solar Choice has projected that it might have to raise $8 million to $10 million to counter campaign opposition from large power companies.

The ballot summary states the intent of the amendment: "Limits or prevents government and electric utility imposed barriers to supplying local solar electricity. Local solar electricity supply is the non-utility supply of solar generated electricity from a facility rated up to 2 megawatts to customers at the same or contiguous property as the facility. Barriers include government regulation of local solar electricity suppliers' rates, service and territory, and unfavorable electric utility rates, charges, or terms of service imposed on local solar electricity customers."

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. Two megawatts have been estimated as providing the daily needs of a typical Wal-Mart or residential communities between 225 and 714 homes.

The utilities contend the ballot summary is "vague" and "misleading," fails to disclose the impact on local-government revenue sources, and that the wording would limit regulations requiring consumer-safety protections.

"Its title and ballot summary improperly use political rhetoric, mislead the voter through substantive inconsistencies between the summary and text, and hide the ball by failing to disclose to voters the current state of the law of utility regulation and the sweeping changes this initiative would create,'' the utilities said in their brief.

Other opponents of the initiative include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Orlando Utilities Commission and the Florida Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women.

"Nowhere do the ballot title or summary state that the amendment drastically changes the regulatory scheme and shifts more of the costs to maintain the power grid to non-solar customers," the Florida Chamber said in its brief. "Nowhere are voters told that local governments would no longer be able to enforce residential-only zoning regulations against local solar power companies that want to establish commercial operations in residential neighborhoods."

Floridians for Solar Choice counts among its members the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, the Ecology Party of Florida, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club Florida, the Space Coast Climate Change Initiative and The Tea Party Network.

Last month, state economists released a study that found the initiative's proposal would result in more solar energy being available in Florida. However, the study also reported that electric utilities will make less money, resulting in fewer dollars for state and local governments, if Florida voters allow businesses and property owners to sell limited amounts of solar-generated power.

FPL, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power have noted the four regulated utilities paid $643.9 million in franchise fees in 2014, a figure that could decline as solar suppliers providing service for neighborhood shops or homes wouldn't be expected to enter similar deals with local governments.


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