On March 31, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to approve the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar ballot for the 2016 election, yet another act in the drama that has unfolded in the Sunshine State over the past 16 months.
Early in 2015, Floridians for Solar Choice, a coalition of conservatives, libertarians, Christians, and environmentalists, launched a ballot campaign to legalize third party ownership of distributed solar in the Sunshine state and allow customers to sell electricity directly to other customers. Soon after Floridians for Solar Choice was created, Consumers for Smart Solar appeared backed with hundreds of thousands of dollars – which later turned into millions of dollars – from the Florida utility companies and Koch Brother financed front groups.
And while the Floridians for Solar Choice initiative was also approved by the Florida Supreme Court, the coalition announced that it will focus on getting its ballot amendment passed in the 2018 election. Problems arose over signature collections because Consumers for Smart Solar offered petition gathers $4 per signature for its petition, which the utility group continued to increase. Floridians for Solar Choice could not match the cost.
Furthermore, it was reported several times that people were having problems with the signature gathers who carried the Consumers for Smart Solar petition as they were misleading the people being asked to sign the petition.
Whereas the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot would have opened up the solar market in Florida, the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot creates the constitutional right in Florida for customers to own or lease solar. But essentially the ballot does nothing to advance the solar market, and the devil is in the details. In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, Bradley Marshall of Earthjustice, writes:
The ballot summary is misleading because it purports to establish a new right when in fact the purpose and effect of the amendment is to eliminate the right to obtain rooftop solar power by way of pay- by-the-watt leases.
The Supporters’ initial briefs contend that the proposed amendment only establishes a constitutional framework by which the rights of solar users and nonusers are established. Instead, the proposed amendment would provide a constitutional endorsement of disputed accounting theories developed by regulated utilities… Because the proposed amendment assumes the truth of these disputed accounting theories, without disclosing this in the summary, the amendment summary is misleading.
Justice Pariente understood that the ballot language was misleading. In the dissent, she writes [emphasis added]:
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 language is further defective for purporting to grant rights to solar energy consumers that are illusory; and failing, as required, to clearly and unambiguously set forth the chief purpose of the proposed amendment—to maintain the status quo favoring the very electric utilities who are the proponents of this amendment.
This ballot initiative is the proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The ballot initiative is titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” and is sponsored by “Consumers for Smart Solar” and supported by Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light Co., Gulf Power Co., and Tampa Electric Company. At only eight words in length, the ballot title is affirmatively misleading because it focuses only on alleged rights related to a consumer’s choice to use solar energy. But it does not illuminate the real purpose, namely, to place a critical restriction on those rights through elevating state and local governments’ police powers to regulate solar energy to the constitutional level.
In addition, the ballot title was artfully drafted to emphasize “choice.” But what “choice” is being provided through this amendment? … In other words, with only this solar energy amendment appearing on the ballot, there really is no “choice” other than to preserve the status quo.
Some of the financial backers of Consumers for Smart Solar are:
- Duke Energy
- NextEra Energy’s Florida Power and Light Company
- Southern Company’s Gulf Power Company
- Tampa Electric Company
- ExxonMobil and Koch Industries funded National Black Chamber of Commerce
- Koch foundation and American Petroleum Institute funded 60 Plus Association
Florida voters will see this ballot as amendment number 1 in their voting booths come November.