Florida's Constitutional Amendment 1 Is Anti-Solar Energy

by Joel Mintz

November 08, 2016

Today, Florida residents are voting on a number of items including Constitutional Amendment 1, misleadingly titled "Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice." Although it gives the appearance of promoting solar energy, Amendment 1 is actually a deceptively worded attempt by big, investor-owned utility companies (including FPL and Duke Energy), masquerading under the banner of "Consumers for Smart Solar," to suppress the growth of solar energy in the Sunshine State and maintain the utilities' current monopoly in the state's energy markets. 

While Amendment 1 purports to afford Floridians the right to install rooftop solar panels on their homes and businesses, that right already exists under Florida law. What is actually needed for solar energy to compete with and replace fossil-fuel generated energy is the installation of "net metering," a technique that will provide an incentive for rooftop solar power users to "sell back" rooftop-solar-generated power to the giant utilities. 

The establishment of net metering would also encourage potential non-utility commercial suppliers of solar energy equipment to enter the solar energy equipment market, a development that would keep the pricing of such equipment affordable for both small and large solar power consumers. Because of the way Amendment 1 is worded, however, its passage will very likely preclude the establishment of net metering and instead encourage further use of climate change-inducing fossil fuels to generate electricity. 

Of particular concern is language in Amendment 1 that promises to "ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of back up power and electric grid access for those who do." Voter approval of that language will allow the monopolistic utilities, with the support of a captive state Public Service Commission, to attack through litigation any future attempts to allow for net metering. Those companies would have a good chance of succeeding in court if Amendment 1 is added to our state constitution. 

Amendment 1 was originally designed by the huge utility companies to counter another proposed solar energy amendment that was sponsored by a coalition of legitimate environmental organizations, Floridians for Solar Choice. The genuine solar energy amendment did not gather a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify for a place on the 2016 ballot. However, with ample big utility funding to pay "volunteer" workers who sought out signatories, petitions for Amendment 1 contained the requisite number of signatures to be put before the voters. This measure was deemed eligible for placement on the ballot by a single vote in the Florida Supreme Court. In a perceptive dissent, however, Justice Barbara Pariente stated, "Let pro-solar energy consumers beware…. This proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida's major investor-owned utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo." 

Solar energy has the potential to significantly boost the economy of our state while simultaneously helping to decrease the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. Florida's monopoly utilities are reportedly spending $21 million to support a measure that will eclipse a solar-powered future, and the grassroots opponents of the disingenuous proposal are grossly underfunded. 

Florida's voters will determine the prospects of solar energy in the state, at least for the near future. By tonight, we'll know whether big utilities or the people prevailed. 

This essay represents the views of the author. It does not reflect the official opinion of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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Joel A. Mintz is a tenured full professor at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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