For Immediate Release: October 19, 2016
Contact: David Pomerantz, Energy and Policy Institute, (914) 584-9054, [email protected];
Nick Surgey, Center for Media and Democracy, (608) 260-9713, [email protected]
Florida utilities disguised anti-solar initiative as pro-solar to trick voters, state solar supporters
New audio recordings released today by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute capture Sal Nuzzo, Vice President at the James Madison Institute (JMI), a Florida-based think tank and member of the national State Policy Network (SPN), boasting about how it successfully used “political jiu-jitsu” to mislead the public into believing that the utility-backed, anti-solar initiative is actually pro-solar.
The pro-utility initiative (“Amendment 1”) will be on the ballot in Florida this November. It has received over $21 million of funding, primarily from the state’s monopoly utilities. The pro-solar “Coalition for Solar Choice” ballot initiative did not qualify for the 2016 ballot, thanks in part to deceptive ballot collection tactics employed by the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar group.
“The people pushing Amendment 1 were very clear about the utilities’ plan when they thought the public wasn’t listening: they’re trying to confuse voters into believing their utility-backed ballot initiative is pro-solar,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute. “It’s a dirty trick, and Floridians should show them that they’re too smart to let them get away with it.”
The solar industry, environmental advocates, and editorial boards around the state have all argued that Amendment 1, if it passes, would be incredibly harmful to the development of solar in the Sunshine State.
Facing an overwhelmingly popular ballot initiative campaign to overturn Florida’s ban on third-party sales of solar power, Florida utilities funded the misleadingly titled organization “Consumers for Smart Solar,” which then turned to JMI for help. JMI has ties to Gulf Power, which has spent $2.1 million backing Amendment 1. Alan Bense serves as the chairman of JMI’s board of directors and is also a member of Gulf Power’s board. Stan Connally, the CEO of Gulf Power, also serves on JMI’s board. JMI additionally has ties to the Koch Brothers. It has received a total of $120,000 between 2012 and 2014 from the Charles Koch Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation.
“State Policy Network groups across the country consistently put the interests of their fossil fuel funders ahead of protecting consumers and the environment,” said Nick Surgey, Director of Research at the Center for Media and Democracy. “The James Madison Institute claims to be a free-market group, so why doesn’t it allow the informed collective wisdom of consumers in Florida decide this issue? It’s pretty clear they know the only way they can help the utilities win this battle is by misleading voters.”
In the recording, Nuzzo schools the other SPN think tank staffers on how the group took advantage of the strong public support for solar and used it to drive support for the utility-backed campaign to defeat the pro-solar initiative.
Full audio and more details at:
From the recording:
“So Consumers for Smart Solar came to JMI and said you guys are, you know, the adults in the room. You’re the ones that have access to the research, to the scholars, to the State Policy Network, to a lot of the national organizations. We need some help because not only are they [Floridians for Solar Choice] going to get the 700,000 signatures to get it on the ballot, it’s actually polling in the 70% range.”
“The point I would make, maybe the takeaway, is as you guys look at policy in your state or constitutional ballot initiatives in your state, remember this: solar polls very well. To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation or in constitutional referendums if that’s the direction you want to take, use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”
Nuzzo was speaking at the “Energy/Environment Leadership Summit,” on October 2, 2016 in Nashville, TN. The Summit is an annual event organized by the Thomas Jefferson Institute that takes place alongside the State Policy Network (SPN) annual meeting. SPN is a network of right-wing, state-based think tanks around the country which claim to push for “market-oriented solutions” but whose agenda often reflects the financial interests of its donors. The Thomas Jefferson Institute is the SPN think-tank in Virginia.
The utility-backed initiative survived a challenge to the Florida Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling. In the dissent, Justice Barbara Pariente wrote “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo. The ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”