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Voters kill anti-solar amendment

BY JIM TURNER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – A controversial solar-energy ballot initiative fell short of the 60 percent voter approval it needed Tuesday, concluding for now one of the most expensive constitutional amendment campaigns in Florida history.

Amendment 1’s attempted regulation of the solar industry was rejected statewide.(ANNE CUSACK/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)
Amendment 1’s attempted regulation of the solar industry was rejected statewide.
(ANNE CUSACK/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS)

The “Consumers for Smart Solar” proposal, Amendment 1 on Tuesday’s ballot, received support from nearly 51 percent of voters, short of the 60 percent approval needed for passage. The failure came after supporters, including four major utilities, spent $25.47 million to try to pass the measure.

Opponents who argued the amendment would hinder the development of alternative energy in Florida celebrated the defeat of the measure.

‘Voter manipulation’
Tory Perfetti, chairman of the opposition group Floridians for Solar Choice and director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, called the vote a “victory for energy freedom.”

“We defeated one of the most egregious and underhanded attempts at voter manipulation in this state’s history,” Perfetti said in a prepared statement.

“The millions of dollars in slick ad buys and glossy mailers did not win the day as opponents of Amendment 1 successfully harnessed social and earned media to educate Floridians about the true intent of this deceptive proposal while tapping a vast network of organizations, solar businesses and supporters who remain committed to growing – not restricting – Florida’s solar industry,” Floridians for Solar Choice said in a release Tuesday.

A clear signal?
“The failure of Amendment 1 is the clearest signal yet that Floridians want more access to clean solar energy,” said Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director, Florida Conservation Voters.

Backers of Amendment 1 took some solace that more than 50 percent of voters supported the proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday and that the effort served its purpose as a counter to the Floridians for Solar Choice proposal.

“This campaign’s purpose was to offer a sensible and fair way to grow the use of solar in Florida as an alternative to our opponent’s amendment, which failed to make the ballot,” Consumers for Smart Solar spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said in a prepared statement late Tuesday.

Another proposal pending
Opponents of a solar energy ballot initiative that failed at the polls Tuesday said they haven’t decided whether to revive their rival initiative, which was waylaid nearly a year ago by utility giants in the state.

Floridians for Solar Choice put aside its effort in January after falling behind in qualifying for the November ballot. The coalition had also become engaged in a contract dispute with a petition-gathering firm as it competed for signatures with Consumers for Smart Solar.

But with the demise of Amendment 1 on Tuesday, Stephen Smith, a member of the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition, said the constitutional amendment route isn’t currently a focus of his group.

Sell excess power
The Floridians for Solar Choice initiative would have sought to allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of solar power to customers on the same or neighboring properties.

Part of any calculations on reviving the Floridians for Solar Choice proposal will include the millions of dollars that four major utilities – Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Co. – pumped into trying to pass Amendment 1.

“We could take on the ballot in ‘18, and they will be very aggressive,” Smith said. “We know they are very, very concerned about elements of our proposal.”

Alys Daly, a spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light, said Wednesday she couldn’t speculate about what the company would do if Floridians for Solar Choice revives its ballot proposal. But she was more direct on the original intent of the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment.

“We’re proud that the Smart Solar campaign achieved its primary objective, which was to stop the dangerous anti-consumer proposal, which was funded by the secretive Southern Alliance for Clean Energy political group,” Daly said. “Their proposal would have stripped Floridians of basic consumer protections.”

Solar ‘subsidy’
Amendment 1 was promoted as a consumer protection effort by placing into the state Constitution existing rules regarding solar power. But critics contended the measure was deceptively designed to allow “discriminatory charges” to be imposed against rooftop solar users.

The failed ballot language would have said that people who haven’t installed solar on their property “are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

While not returning to the amendment route for now, Smith said his coalition intends to focus on ensuring that a separate constitutional amendment approved by voters in August is enacted without changes during the 2017 legislative session.

Solar tax breaks
That measure, which was placed on the primary ballot by state lawmakers, is designed to extend a residential renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties.

The measure also will exempt for 20 years the assessed value of solar and renewable-energy devices installed on businesses and industrial properties and exempt all renewable-energy equipment from state tangible personal property taxes.

Though approved by nearly 73 percent of primary voters, the measure, known as Amendment 4, still needs the Legislature to enact the changes.

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