The Florida Supreme Court advanced the interests of the electric monopolies Thursday by narrowly ruling that an industry-backed solar power amendment to the state Constitution can be placed on the November ballot. The 4-3 split by the justices on whether the ballot language was clear or misleading reflects the thin line the utilities have walked in framing this important public policy issue. Though the court's opinion is disappointing, there will be an opportunity to put solar on a more stable and constructive path before pushing an effort to defeat the utilities and their power grab.
Florida voters have a chance on the Aug. 30 primary ballot to put solar on the right course. Legislators unanimously voted to place a constitutional amendment on that ballot that would provide tax breaks to property owners who install solar. The measure is a good start at creating cleaner and more affordable energy, and voters should approve it.
The amendment would repeal personal property taxes on solar energy equipment, and exempt for 20 years real estate taxes on solar devices. It is primarily aimed at businesses, and the goal is to expand the market for solar by making it cheaper on the front end to lease and install the equipment and more cost effective over time to switch to renewable energy.
The legislative measure also could be a starting point for a more assertive solar policy. The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, has the support of a cross section of interest groups, from business and environmentalists to faith-based organizations and retailers.
That is a different situation from the November amendment whose wording was approved by the court this week. It is backed by the utilities and opposed by renewable energy advocates. The misnamed Consumers for Smart Solar will be Amendment 1 and would merely enshrine into the Constitution the unfair playing field that already exists in the power market. It restates the options current law provides in allowing property owners to place solar equipment on their property. But unlike a competing amendment that would have opened the market, whose sponsors have been forced to wait until 2018, the industry-backed proposal does nothing to expand consumer choice, competitive pricing or any other benefits of a truly open market. The measure was intended to mislead voters and block the pro-solar power amendment all along.
The Legislature's measure on the August ballot is a clean shot, good for business, homeowners, the solar industry and the state's economic climate. It could induce big businesses — from the largest retail chains to manufacturers and shopping malls — to invest significantly in energy-efficient technologies that create jobs, improve public health, diversify and strengthen the electric grid and position the state to better address the impacts of climate change. This is a good step in fashioning a larger and smarter energy policy, and voters should support the amendment.