Arguing before the Supreme Court Tuesday over whether a solar power constitutional amendment should go forward, supporters of Floridians for Solar Choice and opponents backed by utility companies didn’t pull their punches.

“You can’t make voters believe that there’s a problem when you have no basis for saying that,” Barry Richard, a lawyer representing four utility companies including Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Company and Florida Power and Light, told the justices, trying to convince them that the amendment is misleading.

“Right now, you are a captive customer of your big utility company,” responded Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, on the courthouse steps later. “That’s going to change” if the amendment passes.

The constitutional amendment at the center of the debate would allow companies to install solar panels on homes and businesses and sell that energy, without being treated as a utility by state and local regulators. It’s keying up what could become a contentious and very public battle between utility companies and amendment sponsors.

Supporters argue that it will drive down the cost of electricity and open up the market to competition for the monopoly utility companies. But utilities say it merely eliminates regulation meant to keep people safe and will put consumers at risk with limited protections.

The court’s role isn’t to weigh in on the merits of each argument, as Justice Barbara Pariente repeatedly reminded both sides during a public hearing. Rather, the justices have two questions to answer: Does the ballot language fairly show the amendment’s impact? And is it limited to just one subject?

Opponents say it fails both tests by misleading voters and changing the powers of multiple levels of government.

“The voters deserve to understand what this amendment does, and the ballot summary does not make that clear,” Florida Solicitor General Allen Winsor said.

But Bob Nabors, the lawyer for Floridians for Solar Choice, says that’s a hard argument to make. Voters will understand what they’re voting on, he said. The solar choice group also maintains that its language is focused on a single subject.

“There’s a oneness of purpose,” Glickman said. “You do not have to consider every single ramification when there’s a oneness of purpose.”

FloridaSolar4If the justices give them a green light, the amendment’s sponsors still need another 562,000 petition signatures to put the amendment language on the ballot in November 2016. Already, both sides are preparing for a hard-fought campaign.

Opponents have started a committee and constitutional amendment of their own: Consumers for Smart Solar, which aims to protect the existing rules around solar power. The Florida Chamber of Commerce — whose board of directors includes executives from five power companies — is a supporter.

Floridians for Solar Choice has collected $751,176 in contributions, nearly all of it from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a group that refuses to make its donor list public for fears that supporters could be harassed. They said future funding will come from other groups pending the court’s go-ahead.


Source: Miami Herald

Our state’s nickname, The Sunshine State, is more than just a bumper-sticker slogan: Florida has the best solar energy resource east of the Mississippi.

This potential, coupled with Florida’s size and growing population, means that we should be a national leader in affordable solar-energy generation. But we’re not.

Two of Florida’s big power companies have recently announced new large, utility-scale solar projects. However, the private investment market is clamoring to invest in solar in Florida, too. Florida’s distributed (roof top) solar market, which is funded by private investment dollars, is being artificially constrained by unnecessary barriers.

So far, Florida’s big monopoly utilities have been effective at controlling who generates power from the sun and what they can do with it. These barriers stifle innovation, constrain customer choice and prevent job creation, hurting my business and hundreds like it.

Kent Crook

Kent Crook

That why longtime solar advocate, CEO of Wiremaster’s Electric, an electrical-services company in Miami, and board member of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, Kent Crook, supports a newly launched ballot petition to expand solar choice by allowing customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power and choose who provides it to them. This petition is not a mandate, and it won’t raise taxes. It simply removes barriers in order to expand the choices for Floridians who want to power their homes and businesses with clean, renewable solar power.

Solar choice would enable customers to contract with solar providers who can offer innovative financing plans to provide solar power systems at no upfront cost — much as we already purchase and finance homes or cars. Landlords likewise will have the opportunity to provide the economic benefits of solar power to tenants. And this ballot would also permit solar providers to sell power directly to the customer at a long-term fixed rate. Fixed rates lock in long-term savings and offer more control over our energy future. In addition, recent studies have shown that solar-energy systems increase homes’ resale value.

These benefits are great news for middle- and lower-income customers who may have been locked out of the solar market because they did not have the upfront cash to invest in a solar system. Clean, nonpolluting energy sources like solar can also reduce traditional energy’s health impacts, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities in our state and around the country. Thus we are able to leave cleaner air and water for future generations to enjoy.

Despite protests from the big power companies, solar energy does not raise electricity rates, and because the fuel source — the sun — is free, it will help customers control electricity rates. Monopoly power companies like Florida Power & Light make their money by building new power plants. They earn a guaranteed rate of return, which is then passed on as profits to its shareholders. The company doesn’t seem to consider its low-income customers when gutting customer energy-efficiency opportunities or building costly new power plants.

Monopoly utilities are understandably scared of losing their monopoly and the lucrative profits that the government guarantees them. When homeowners and businesses are able to generate their own power, it means less profit for power companies.

 By allowing the private market to invest in solar, investment risk is shifted away from the monopoly utilities’ customers to the private market, saving customers money and reducing the need to build new expensive power generating facilities.

It’s called the free market, and competition will benefit us all. More solar energy customers means businesses will hire and train more solar installers and electricians — resulting in more well-paid, local jobs that cannot be outsourced.

A recent poll found that 74 percent of state voters support a proposal to change the law and allow Floridians to contract directly with solar providers to power their homes or businesses with solar energy. Residents of the Sunshine State clearly support solar power, but they are currently being denied the right to choose it as their power source.

Floridians for Solar Choice is bringing the issue directly to the people. Sign the petition at


Source: Miami Herald