Editorial: Reject deceptive claims about anti-solar amendment

A utility-backed front group masquerading as an advocate for solar power is blanketing the airwaves with feel-good commercials that claim an amendment to the state Constitution on the November ballot is good for solar, good for consumers and good for Florida. Don't believe it. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
A utility-backed front group masquerading as an advocate for solar power is blanketing the airwaves with feel-good commercials that claim an amendment to the state Constitution on the November ballot is good for solar, good for consumers and good for Florida. Don't believe it.JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published
Updated

A utility-backed front group masquerading as an advocate for solar power is blanketing the airwaves with feel-good commercials that claim an amendment to the state Constitution on the November ballot is good for solar, good for consumers and good for Florida. Don't believe it. Some 2.5 million voters already have cast ballots across the state, and many are feeling buyers' remorse about supporting this deceitful ballot measure. This amendment will only protect the monopolies at the expense of consumers, and voters should reject it.

Here are some of the misleading claims by Consumers for Smart Solar, the utilities' $22 million front group — and the facts.

Claim: The measure protects the rights of Floridians to generate their own solar. That's false. State law already guarantees that right. This amendment would merely put existing law — and its anti-competitive restrictions — into the Florida Constitution, making it harder for the solar industry to finally take off in the Sunshine State. It was designed to confuse voters with a competing measure that would have actually stoked the solar market by allowing the sale of small-scale solar energy to adjacent property owners rather than only to the utilities. That effort failed to garner enough signatures; proponents expect to bring it back in 2018. But a state-required financial analysis of the real pro-solar measure — that is not on the ballot — found "the amendment will induce more solar electricity generation than would have occurred in its absence." No wonder it worried the monopolies.

Claim: The measure better protects public health and safety. That's false. Despite its warm and fuzzy promises, the amendment doesn't change the government's existing ability to regulate solar operations. That responsibility falls now largely to local governments, which use their public health and safety codes to ensure that solar — as with any enterprise — is built and operated safely. The state's own analysis found that "state and local governments will retain their abilities" to protect public health, safety and welfare under the industry-backed measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. "The affected governments are not required to take any specific action as a result of the proposed amendment," the analysis found. "(It) will not require any change in current or anticipated state and local regulation or taxation of solar energy in Florida."

Claim: Without this amendment, non-solar users would not be protected from being forced to subsidize solar customers. That's false. The Florida Public Service Commission found the amendment would preserve the "existing authority of state and local governments over customer-owned solar," including the authority of these governments to establish regulations or programs "that may or may not have the effect of requiring non-solar customers to subsidize customers with solar facilities." What's more, the pro-solar group that failed in its effort this year, Floridians for Solar Choice, had anticipated that solar customers would help pay for transmission lines and other fixed costs that come with regional service. Its amendment did not prohibit the electric utilities from charging solar customers such fees, and it provided a vehicle to address cost-shifting.

If power companies, which are privileged to use the public right of way to conduct their business, want a debate over cost-shifting or subsidies, then let's have one. The same goes for the expansion of solar and the public health and safety implications of proliferating its use. But this amendment is the industry's attempt to leverage the appeal of clean, plentiful and increasingly affordable energy to sustain a dated business model, an anti-competitive market and a political grip on lawmakers in Tallahassee that has prevented solar from reaching its potential.

By rejecting Amendment 1, voters will send a message that Florida can and must do better — and that they won't fall for misleading advertising.

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