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Conservative solar proponents decry attack on ballot initiative as 'campaign of deception'

Published Apr. 13, 2015

Conservative solar proponents on Saturday accused Americans For Prosperity of launching a "campaign of deception" against a ballot petition that would allow those in Florida who generate electricity from the sun to sell that power directly to others.

In a news release Saturday, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, part of a bi-partisan coalition leading the ballot petition, said inaccurate statements have been circulating in e-mails from Americans For Prosperity.

The e-mail criticizes the ballot initiative as an effort about "money, and using government and taxpayers to prop up the solar industry. The solar industry cannot survive without taxpayer funded subsidies and mandates."

In addition, the e-mail asserts that the coalition, Floridians for Solar Choice, is merely "a front group for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE)" and that the environmental group is funded by liberal, California-based activist Tom Steyer.

Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance, said his organization has never received money directly from Steyer and "there is no Tom Steyer money associated with this effort at this point." Smith said the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund is "providing some early support for this effort."

Tory Perfetti, Florida director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom and Floridians for Solar Choice, said statements about mandates for subsidies or purchases of solar over any other form of energy also are inaccurate.

"This ballot initiative will open up the energy market in Florida to freedom of choice and allow commerce to be conducted through the free market," said Perfetti, a conservative Republican. "This initiative will not mandate the purchase of solar nor will you find anywhere in the ballot language anything which says that solar will be subsidized, so to say otherwise is false."

Chris Hudson, Florida director of Americans For Prosperity, said his organization will hold a news conference next week in Tallahassee to discuss concerns about the solar and the ballot initiative. He said the bottom line is, "We should not favor one source of energy over the other in the Constitution or anywhere else. Solar cannot compete in a free market. It relies on government mandates and taxpayer funded subsidies to make it feasible."

Hudson cited a Louisiana study that found those on the grid paid more because of those who adopted solar.

But that contradicts other studies and reports, including one in Nevada last year that found benefit for those who remain on the grid.

The ballot initiative and the coalition, Floridians for Solar Choice, have forged a unique group that includes the tea party and Christian Coalition conservatives as well as Libertarians; liberal environmentalists such as the Southern Alliance, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace; Physicians for Social Responsibility; and the Florida Retail Federation.

If the proposed ballot measure passes, solar proponents argue it would open up Florida's solar energy market, which has largely stagnated for years. The measure would allow business or property owners to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell that power directly to others, such as tenants, without having to go through a utility.

Under state law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers, though solar proponents argue that 36 states allow the practice. Only five states, including Florida, ban the practice.

Debbie Dooley, a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party and a leader in the ballot initiative, said: "AFP frequently mentions the subsidies for solar, but fails to bring up the fact fossil fuel and nuclear have been very heavily subsidized since 1932 and still are. In addition, government created monopolies are subsidized both by the federal government and by captive utility customers."

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

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