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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Solar choice amendment backers say utilities have slowed petition gathering



Dec. 31 is a critical date for groups pushing constitutional amendments to submit petitions if they want to make the ballot. Right now, Floridians for Solar Choice is far from hitting the 683,149-signature threshold to appear before voters in November.

Still, some of the groups supporting the amendment say they're optimistic.

"We are within striking distance of qualifying," said John Hedrick, president of the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, on Wednesday.

The latest information from the Division of Elections shows that the solar choice group has 253,497 signatures and hasn't hit the minimum requirements in any of the state's 27 congressional districts. (They'll need 8 percent of the voters from half the districts.)

Hedrick and Kim Ross, president of ReThink Energy Florida, said Wednesday that they think the amendment's slow pace is due to a competing solar energy initiative backed largely by the state's major utility companies, including Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy.

"The people with the other solar petition are out there trying to confuse," Ross said. If not for the other amendment, she's confident they would already have passed the threshold.

It's confusing because paid petition gatherers from either group -- incentivized by a per-petition payment scheme -- will ask voters if they've "signed the solar energy petition." Potential signers often don't realize that there's a difference between Floridians for Solar Choice and Consumers for Smart Solar.

They don't know that one (Floridians for Solar Choice) would allow them to contract with a solar company to put panels on their roof, while the other (Consumers for Smart Solar) largely reaffirms existing regulations over utilities, solar energy and who can provide it.

Right now, Consumers for Smart Solar has 335,830 signatures verified by county election supervisors. But the end of December is a long way away. That's an important deadline to make the Feb. 1 deadline on the signatures because counties can opt not to send signatures they do not have 30 days out from the final deadline.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 3:52pm]


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