Florida’s Highest Court Approves Solar Choice

George Cavros | October 23, 2015 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities
This week marks an important milestone for solar policy in the Southeast, specifically Florida. Florida’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the language proposed by the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative is unambiguous and single-subject, meaning that this initiative now has a green light to be on Florida’s general election ballot in November of 2016, as long as the remaining, required petitions are collected and verified by February 1st of next year.

The solar coalition is incredibly diverse and has over 65 associations, businesses and organizations, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, spanning the political spectrum and the business community. Its coalition partners and volunteers throughout the state are celebrating this first victory, but realize that much work needs to be done in the next two months to take this initiative all the way to the 2016 ballot.

Florida is one of only four states where current law expressly denies citizens and businesses the freedom to buy power directly from someone other than a monopoly electric utility or government-owned electric utility. The Solar Choice initiative would remove this barrier by allowing for the sale of solar power to home and business owners directly through a solar developer, or ‘third party’. It would also allow property owners to sell solar power to their tenants, meaning that Florida renters (a common living arrangement in the Sunshine State) could  have access to solar for the first time. The third party  financing arrangement also means that a homeowner can  have solar installed on their home with no upfront cost; they would simply pay for the power being generated by the system on a monthly basis, at a fixed rate, much like a car owner finances a car or a homeowner finances a house through mortgage payments.

Hear that, fixed energy rate? This would allow energy savings for Floridians, as well as provide more access to solar in middle and lower income communities by reducing the financial barrier of the initial investment in equipment.

Yesterday’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court adds to the momentum that the initiative has been creating throughout the state. Over 183,000 petitions have been verified, with an additional 100,000 currently being processed. The Solar Choice amendment needs 683,149 total verified petitions, and then a 60% majority in the election next November. The coalition presented oral arguments on September 1, 2015. Now that the language has official approval from the courts, it is simply up to people power to get the ballots needed.

Utilities front opposition group to mislead voters

There is, of course, opposition from the utility monopolies who see any change to the status quo as a threat to their profits. In response to a true citizen-driven ballot initiative to allow solar to grow in the Sunshine State, the utilities and their proxy groups have formed a group called “Consumer for Smart Solar” and introduced a sham amendment to confuse voters. Its amendment, which simply maintains the status quo in Florida,  is being bankrolled by Florida power companies and Koch bros-funded front groups. For a detailed chart that helps you ‘follow the money’ click here.

It is encouraging to see that the Florida Supreme Court was not swayed by arguments by the power companies that the petition language was misleading and dealt with more than one subject. In the end, the Court ruled that it in fact met all the requirements and that it can be placed on the ballot. All that’s left is to procure the remaining verified signatures. Floridians are one important step closer to making their voice heard and getting Solar Choice on the ballot next year.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy supports Floridians for Solar Choice as a founding member of the coalition, and we have faith in Floridians and the clean energy community as a whole to work together and take this important initiative all the way. Florida is Ground Zero when it comes to climate change, and this initiative is an important way for a vulnerable, coastal state to embrace real solutions for clean energy.

You can learn more about the initiative and get involved by visiting  www.flsolarchoice.org.

George Cavros
This blog was written by a former staff member of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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