Saturday, July 21, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida examines Al Gore's warning about utilities' plan for solar amendment

Stumping for Hillary Clinton in South Florida, former Vice President Al Gore wanted to enlighten a crowd of supporters about a controversial ballot measure on solar energy.

Gore said the utility companies that back Amendment 1 make it sound like it fosters solar, but it's a "phony-baloney" initiative.

"The things they claim protect solar are protections you already have," Gore said at Miami Dade College's Kendall campus on Oct. 11. "But they are trying to fool you into amending your state Constitution in a way that gives them the authority to shut down net metering and do in Florida what they did in Nevada and just kill the solar industry."

Amendment 1 is widely considered a deliberate attempt by utilities to erect barriers to competition and prevent third-party leasing of solar. But Gore goes a bit too far to say the measure would automatically grant utilities unchecked "authority" to kill net metering.

Amendment 1 drew fire for crowding out a more grass-roots solar power amendment that failed to make this year's ballot — in part because utility companies contributed millions to Amendment 1's war chest. The Florida Supreme Court determined the language of the amendment was not misleading and approved it, 4-3.

Florida is one of five states that does not allow a property owner to have a third-party installer put solar panels on their roof and sell the power back to them.

The amendment will leave that ban in place, but, if the ban on solar leasing were removed, the language in the amendment could discourage third-party sales. It gives utility companies the right to impose new fees on all solar customers, making solar sales and leasing less economical.

Audio surfaced this month of Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the utilities-backed James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, at an energy summit calling the amendment "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that "would completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road," according to the Miami Herald.

Before that story, environmentalists and solar advocates said they were tipped off by the very wording in the amendment:

"State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."

The first clause protects a person's ability to put solar panels on their house. Current law already allows that. The second half is the controversial part, because critics like Gore say it will allow utility companies to end a process called net metering.

Net metering allows someone to sell their excess solar-generated power to the utilities. Those people would also enjoy a lower bill because they draw less electricity from the traditional, power plant-supplied grid.

Utility companies nationwide have argued that this is unfair, because homes with solar panels are getting all the benefits of being connected to the grid without having to pay as much for the upkeep of generators and transmission lines as other customers. Traditional customers, they say, are subsidizing solar customers.

Solar promoters disagree with those claims. They argue that instead of costing non-solar customers more, solar energy brings more value to the electricity distribution system than it takes away. A Brookings Institution study in May said adding solar power cuts costs and increases efficiency, leading to customer savings.

Amendment 1 opponents therefore fear that utilities will lobby the state to allow a surcharge on solar customers or, as Gore said, change the policy for net metering. If Amendment 1 is approved, state officials could define what it means to "subsidize" solar power.

It's a reasonable concern. Florida Power & Light has already told the state Public Service Commission in June 2015 that it didn't see the practice as sustainable, repeatedly referring to "subsidies required to support rooftop solar."

Ending net metering would strangle a vital revenue source for those third-party solar companies, which make money by leasing the equipment and selling excess power to utilities. The chance to cripple competitors would give utilities a big incentive to kill net metering.

As Gore mentioned, that's what happened in Nevada, which reduced net metering payments so much that major third-party companies left the state, dropping new panel installations by 92 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

But no one knows for certain what Florida's utility companies would do about net metering, or potential extra fees. Both are possible, but neither are definite if Amendment 1 passes.

Changes wouldn't be automatic, either. Florida's Public Service Commission would have to approve utilities' requests. And since net metering is a part of state statute, the matter would likely end up before the state Supreme Court.

Amendment 1 would potentially give utilities a constitutional argument to eventually charge solar customers more, or change net metering policies. There's no certain proof that Florida regulators would approve either, but experts told us it's a very reasonable suspicion.

We rate his statement Half True.

This story has been edited. Read the full fact-check at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

Comments
Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

Tampa Bay and Florida businesses expect tariffs to drive prices up

TAMPA — Tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and other countries are beginning to push up prices and depress demand in spots around the Tampa Bay area and Florida, business executives say."We’ve definitely seen that the tariffs have increased ...
Published: 07/20/18
March column: Is Congressional District 16 more flippable? What about District 15?

March column: Is Congressional District 16 more flippable? What about District 15?

In the wake of good fundraising news for Democrat David Shapiro, who is running against Rep. Vern Buchanan in Congressional District 16, political analysts are upping their odds of Shapiro’s winning. But what about Congressional District 15, where Re...
Published: 07/20/18
Trump says he’d have no problem beating former VP Biden in 2020

Trump says he’d have no problem beating former VP Biden in 2020

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast Thursday that running against Joe Biden in 2020 would be "a dream," claiming that Barack Obama "took him out of the garbage heap" to make him his running mate in 2008.Trump was asked ...
Published: 07/19/18
At St. Pete rally, protesters call Trump’s remarks on Russia ‘treason’

At St. Pete rally, protesters call Trump’s remarks on Russia ‘treason’

ST. PETERSBURG — Linda and Jack Miller braved the humidity at Demens Landing on Wednesday night for a simple reason: "Treason," said Linda Miller, 66. The St. Petersburg couple joined more than 100 protesters toting signs, pins and megaphones...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/19/18
Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

Meet the man who might have brought on the age of ‘downloadable guns’

During the summer of 2012, Cody Wilson hung around J&J, a car-repair shop run by two "goofy" guys in their late 20s. The Austin warehouse was crowded with engine blocks, car parts and Pelican boxes that never seemed to have been opened, but the 24-ye...
Published: 07/18/18
‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

‘She was like a novelty’: How alleged Russian agent Maria Butina gained access to elite conservative circles

WASHINGTON - For nearly five years, the young Russian political-science student was an unusual fixture at the most important events of the U.S. conservative movement.Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent,...
Published: 07/18/18
PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

PolitiFact: Fact-checking the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin made inaccurate statements to the media following their one-on-one talks in Helsinki about election meddling, global terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation.Here’s a rundown of our fact-checks.Trump:...
Published: 07/17/18
Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

Obama gives Trump sharp rebuke in Mandela address on values

JOHANNESBURG — Former U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday took aim at "strongman politics" in his highest-profile speech since leaving office, urging people around the world to respect human rights and other values now under threat in an imp...
Published: 07/17/18
Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Romano: Excuse me Gov. Scott, but you’re a hypocrite

Hypocrisy, thy name is Rick Scott.And, yes, I owe Shakespeare an apology.But I think Florida’s governor owes all of us an apology.This isn’t about one man’s opinion, and it isn’t about philosophical differences. This is about a politician who is publ...
Published: 07/17/18
Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

HELSINKI — Standing next to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Moscow was to blame for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election to Trump’s benefit and seemed to accept Putin’s i...
Published: 07/16/18