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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Supreme Court rules in favor of solar power ballot language



A constitutional amendment that supporters say could pave the way for more solar energy in Florida cleared a key legal hurdle on Thursday in its bid to get on the ballot for the 2016 election cycle.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the wording of the constitutional amendment is clear and contains a single subject – legal hurdles any constitutional amendment proposal from the public must clear to get on the ballot.

“We are thrilled with the high court’s ruling so that voters may have the opportunity to vote on removing a barrier that currently blocks Florida’s families and businesses from greater energy choices through the power of the free market,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, the group advocating for the constitutional amendment.

The group still faces another key obstacle. To get on the ballot, the group needs more than 680,000 signed petitions. So far, 183,000 have been verified.

If the amendment gets on the ballot and is approved next year, it 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.

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

Opponents of the measure argued before the Supreme Court that the ballot language is misleading voters.

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

The Supreme Court disagreed.

“As we explain, we conclude that the proposed amendment embraces a single subject and matter directly connected thewith, and that the ballot summary explaining the chief purpose of the measure is not clearly and conclusively defective,” the court decision states.

Opponents of the amendment have started a committee and constitutional amendment of their own. The group, Consumers for Smart Solar, says it aims to protect the existing rules around solar power.

“It is unfortunate that the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot language being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice,” said Dick Batchelor, co-chair of the Consumers for Smart Solar.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 22, 2015 12:41pm]


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