Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Editorials

Times recommends: Vote no on anti-solar Amendment 1

Amendment 1 is a solar scam, and all of the millions being spent by the utility companies to protect their bottom line won't change that. While claiming to expand the use of solar in Florida, this amendment would have the opposite effect and provide state constitutional protection to a rigged system that favors the electric monopolies. Don't fall for this deception, which never should have been allowed on the ballot.

The industry's front group, the misnamed Consumers for Smart Solar, pitches the amendment as a means for promoting "sensible, fair and safe expansion of solar energy in Florida." It would do no such thing. It would merely cement into the Florida Constitution the few solar options that already exist for consumers and protect the utilities from market-driven changes that would cost them money.

By enshrining the anti-market restrictions into the Florida Constitution, the amendment would give the current laws higher legal protection. That means a higher hurdle for changing the law to truly open the solar market. The result: Higher costs for consumers, higher profits for the monopolies and higher risks for the growing solar industry to break into the Sunshine State.

This campaign is bought and paid for by the biggest electric companies in Florida — Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power — that have contributed nearly all of the $21 million to confuse voters, protect their market share and prolong the delay of more affordable and cleaner energy options. Even the power companies conceded, in a court case preceding this ballot fight, that "no action is required by any state or local regulatory authority" to put the measure into action. A required analysis by state economists found that the amendment would establish a constitutional protection that "is consistent with current law." And it added the amendment "will not require any change in current or anticipated state and local government regulation or taxation of solar energy in Florida."

The Florida Supreme Court allowed this misleading amendment to proceed to the ballot on a 4-3 vote that should have gone the other way. Now the utilities are spending heavily to barrage voters with deceptive mailers. This is an all-out effort to preserve the status quo, reinforce the monopolies' clout in Tallahassee and drive away an emerging market.

Solar is becoming increasingly popular, as costs continue to fall, as technologies improve, as the turnaround time on investment shrinks and as the private sector, government agencies and others realize the financial and security advantages of diversifying their energy mix. But the market will not take off until Florida quits forcing consumers to subsidize the utilities' outdated business model while denying consumers choice and pricing options.

Those were the very goals of a competing solar amendment that jolted the industry to get behind this Trojan horse. The well-intentioned measure, by a group called Floridians for Solar Choice, would have opened up the market by allowing property owners to sell solar on a small scale. But backers failed to get enough signatures for the ballot and expect to return in 2018. The utilities, not content to fight the issue on the merits, went forward with their deceitful amendment.

Opinion polls suggest many voters believe they are promoting solar energy by supporting this amendment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voters should reject this pre-emptive strike by the electric monopolies and wait for 2018 to bring a truly competitive environment to the state. This is a cynical effort to stop the clock, artificially inflate the price of solar and keep the market uncertain enough to drive away competition.

On Amendment 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting no.

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