Florida is called the Sunshine State, but it's not a leader when it comes to solar energy. On the contrary: Florida, fourth in the nation in population and twenty-second in land area, ranks third in the nation for solar power potential — but only fourteenth for actual production of solar electricity.
The reason? The state's restrictive energy regulations force homeowners to buy power from the state's licensed utilities — and those companies are dead set against rooftop solar.
Solar power activists have been pushing the Florida legislature for years to make the state's policy more like the policies in many other states, where homeowners with photovoltaic (PV) panels on their property are entitled to sell excess power back to the grid, and can draw power from the grid when the panels aren't producing (a so-called "grid-tied" system). Solar activists also want the rules to allow companies like SolarCity to lease rooftop solar panels to homeowners in exchange for a piece of the energy production payback. That business practice, which has been SolarCity's formula for growth into a major national company, is illegal in Florida.
The advocates of solar reform haven't made any headway in the Florida legislature. So now they're taking their case to the voters — that is, if they can gather enough signatures on their petition to put their proposal on the Florida ballot next November. But their effort is facing stiff opposition from well-funded industry groups who have come up with their own initiative — one which would basically enshrine Florida's existing solar-unfriendly legal structure as part of the state's Constitution.
This month, the backers of solar reform hit a milestone when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that their initiative can go ahead. The Tampa Bay Times covers that story here (see: "Florida Supreme Court rules in favor of solar power ballot language," by Jeremy Wallace). The Court was required to verify that the measure was limited to a single purpose, and that voters could tell from the ballot summary what that purpose is — which, the Justices ruled, it does, and they can: "As we explain, we conclude that the proposed amendment embraces a single subject and matter directly connected therewith, and that the ballot summary explaining the chief purpose of the measure is not clearly and conclusively defective,” the court decision holds.
Proponents of the measure applauded the court's ruling, while opponents decried it, the Times noted. “We are thrilled with the high court’s ruling so that voters may have the opportunity to vote on removing a barrier that currently blocks Florida’s families and businesses from greater energy choices through the power of the free market,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, the group advocating for the constitutional amendment. “It is unfortunate that the Florida Supreme Court approved the ballot language being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice,” countered Dick Batchelor, co-chair of the Consumers for Smart Solar.
Consumers for Smart Solar emerged in response to the initiative started by Floridians for Solar Choice, the Miami Herald reported in July (see: "Group attempts to undercut solar initiative with rival amendment," by Mary Ellen Klas). Writes the Herald: "The latest flare-up in Florida’s solar wars emerged Wednesday when a group sided with Florida’s utility industry and announced it is gathering petitions for a rival constitutional amendment that would give consumers a right to do what they already can — put rooftop solar on their homes and be regulated by government."
Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which backs the Floridians for Solar Choice initiative, slammed the rival proposition as a smokescreen in an interview with radio station WMNF (see: "Two competing solar amendments could be on Florida’s 2016 ballot," by Sean Kinane). Said Glickman: "So in order to confuse people they set up their own initiative. And it’s the oldest political tool in the book to trick and confuse people. They call their initiative Consumers for Smart Solar. There are no consumers involved in it; it’s a whole grouping of hired guns and front groups that the utilities and their allies like the Koch Brothers are funding to make it harder for us to gather signatures, to make it harder for us to raise money and in general."