Romano: The real scoop on the dueling solar power amendments

Published Sept. 1, 2015

Soon, the debate over solar power will truly begin.

One constitutional amendment is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court today, and a competing amendment is waiting in the wings.

Should the amendments past muster legally, and if they both meet petition requirements, it will eventually be up to voters to decide on Florida's solar direction.

And what are the voters' choices? Either move forward or stand still.

Admittedly, that's a scaled-down assessment of the two proposals. Sort of like saying McDonald's has hamburgers and KFC has chicken. It may not be a perfect description, but it's pretty close to reality.

So here's what the two groups are actually proposing:

Floridians for Solar Choice: They want to make solar power available for purchase from someone other than a utility company. Theoretically, this would make solar energy more accessible because manufacturers pay for the necessary equipment, and the consumer buys power from them through an agreed-upon rate.

Consumers for Smart Solar: They want the status quo to be reaffirmed in the state's Constitution, i.e. only utility companies can sell energy.

Now, you might be asking yourself, why do we need a constitutional amendment that doesn't change anything? Good question. The answer is we don't.

Even if you're not a fan of solar energy, or you don't like the idea of solar companies selling energy directly to businesses and consumers, you need only vote against the "choice" amendment and you've already struck a blow for the status quo.

But the state's power companies are so dead set against the idea of people getting solar power from someone else, they aren't willing to risk a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote. They've put their considerable heft behind the competing amendment, even if it does nothing other than to confuse potential voters.

Former state legislator Dick Batchelor, co-chair of Consumers for Smart Solar, recently took part in a solar debate at a Florida Association of Counties conference. I asked him afterward whether his amendment was a reaction to the "choice" proposal.

"Yes, it is, we're not trying to hide from that," he said. "We think it's a bad amendment."

Batchelor's argument is that the "choice" amendment favors solar companies more than consumers. He also says energy laws do not belong in the Constitution.

He's right about that last point. The problem is our leaders in Tallahassee have virtually ignored the rise of solar power as an increasingly inexpensive energy source. That's why Florida lags behind so many states in solar production.

"I understand the frustration with the Legislature. We all have encountered that at times," Batchelor said. "But that's the process we have."

Unfortunately, it's a flawed process because too many of our legislators act like paid shills for the electric companies. And the result is you — the consumer, the taxpayer, the voter — are getting royally scammed by power companies that profit off more expensive energy-producing sources.

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So, yes, tacking a solar energy amendment onto the Constitution is not ideal. And you may well have questions about all the implications involved.

On the other hand, anything so vociferously opposed by utilities companies and their ethically challenged floozies in the Legislature can't be all bad.