Florida solar power proponents launch PAC in push for electricity

Published January 14 2015
Updated January 15 2015

TALLAHASSEE — A political action committee announced Wednesday by solar proponents is banking on support from an array of politically diverse groups in its push for more widespread use of the sun for electricity in the Sunshine State.

Floridians for Solar Choice wants the state to allow homeowners and businesses to buy and sell solar power to one another, without going through utility companies. Unlike dozens of other states, it is illegal in Florida.

The coalition of Republicans, Democrats, retailers and environmentalists drafted a petition to put the issue on the 2016 ballot. To get there, the coalition will need 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016.

Tory Perfetti, the coalition's chairman, and other members of the group said during a news conference that passing the amendment would introduce competition to the energy market and could boost renewable energy usage in Florida.

Utility companies see rooftop solar as part of the threat to their business model.

The utilities have argued that solar costs too much, and that too many clouds cover Florida for solar to be effective. If too many well-to-do utility customers go solar, the cost to maintain power lines and power plants will soar, adding undue burden on the poor, the utilities say.

But critics of the utilities argue that charging customers for the construction of new power plants hurts the poor more.

Taking on the utility companies will likely prove expensive.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, estimated that it could cost Floridians for Solar Choice about $10 million to pass the amendment.

Utility companies are already heavily invested in politics. In the 2014 election, the state's largest power company, Florida Power & Light, made more than $7.5 million in contributions to candidates, parties and PACs.

But Floridians for Solar Choice has brought together groups that rarely — if ever — align, including clean-energy activists, the Christian Coalition of America, the tea party and the Libertarian Party.

"It is long overdue that we all come together," Smith said. "And how rare is it that we can come together on an issue that people do not have to get rid of their convictions, where people can come with their convictions?"

Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263. Contact Ivan Penn at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.