Solar proponents announced Wednesday a new coalition that will push for increased use of renewable energy in Florida.The coalition includes three major renewable and clean energy organizations: the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, industry groups, and the nonprofit Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.The organizations say Florida laws and the state's investor-owned utilities have hampered the growth of solar power in the Sunshine State."It's a real injustice that the solar market in the Sunshine State is being held back," Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance, said during a media conference call Wednesday. "It basically is the largest untapped market in the United States."Reed Wilson, president of the Florida Solar Industries board, said investor-owned utilities have pushed building power plants that bolster their profits, rather than energy policy that benefits everyone."Over the years, we've just seen that utilities have grossly influenced the Public Service Commission," Wilson said. "Florida used to be the No. 1 producer of solar energy in the nation. Currently we're 18th."Florida's largest utilities — Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric — want to reduce conservation goals by more than 90 percent and have attacked solar as unreliable and costly.The utilities have stated that intermittent cloud cover and zero production at night hinders solar without an efficient battery system.The coalition said it aims to combat what it characterizes as misinformation by the utilities and the influence of their message on Tallahassee.In particular, the coalition said it wants to ensure that the state preserves net metering, which allows solar power users to sell excess electricity they generate to the utilities at wholesale prices. Sterling Ivey, a Duke Energy spokesman, said the utility under PSC rules allows solar users to resale electricity to the utility at retail prices.They also want Tallahassee to remove obstacles to solar, such as a state law that prohibits third parties from selling electricity to consumers. "There's lots of people that would like to play in the Florida market," Smith said. "This is what is so insidious about what the utilities are doing. We cannot let the monopoly utilities set the tone and the communication about what solar can and cannot do."Contact Ivan Penn at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.