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Several business and African-American groups oppose Florida solar initiative

Published Jun. 11, 2015

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and several pro-business and minority organizations filed briefs this week opposing the solar ballot initiative now before the state Supreme Court.

The solar ballot initiative would allow those who generate electricity from the sun to sell the power directly to other consumers. While the ballot initiative has a diverse group of supporters — including environmentalists, tea party leaders and some business leaders — opposition to the measure also has formed.

"As a large and growing state, Florida needs a diverse energy portfolio that includes solar energy," Bondi said in a statement.

"However, the proposed constitutional amendment mandates major changes in existing law, using language that is unclear and misleading. The ballot initiative, as written, will leave voters uninformed and consumers vulnerable, which is why today we filed a brief challenging this proposed constitutional amendment."

The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Florida chapter of the National Congress of Black Women Inc. argued that utility companies would have difficulty recouping their costs as wealthier customers installed solar and the financially disadvantaged paid to maintain power plants and power lines.

Their opposition stands in contrast to the position of the national board of the NAACP, which in February issued a statement backing solar energy.

Other briefs opposing the ballot initiative were expected from such groups as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is heavily supported by the state's utilities.

Susan Clark, a former state Public Service Commission member who began representing electric utilities after she left office, filed a brief on behalf of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. In it, Clark and her law firm added that the initiative as written would hinder government's ability to regulate electricity.

"Any regulations designed to protect the public health, safety and welfare would be illegal" under the solar ballot proposal, Clark's brief stated.

The refrain that solar would hurt the poor has been a growing argument by the investor-owned utilities, and it has angered critics.

"It appears evident that this 'solar hurts the poor' strategy has been coordinated by Duke (Energy) and its cohorts in the corporate electric power industry and used in many states recently," the Rev. Nelson Johnson, pastor of a predominantly African-American church in Greensboro, N.C., wrote in a letter.

"Fortunately," Johnson added, "the scheme has been rejected by the NAACP's national board, by various state NAACP chapters."

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