Solar Choice in the Florida Supreme Court

Alissa Schafer | September 1, 2015 | Energy Policy, Solar
solar choice at the supreme court

Things haven’t exactly been easy for the solar industry in the Sunshine State. Despite abundant sunshine and a largely untapped market, energy policies are under the complete control of utility monopolies and have remained ironically un-friendly to solar. Current Florida law only allows utility companies to sell electric power to a customer, meaning that any sort of third party power purchasing agreements (PPAs) are illegal. This law has created a barrier to solar growth in Florida by effectively prohibiting solar contractors from even entering into the energy marketplace.

Floridians for Solar Choice, a diverse, bi-partisan group of more than 50 organizations and businesses, is working to open that market for solar companies across the Sunshine State through a ballot initiative that would remove the barrier to third party power purchasing agreements. Oral arguments for this initiative were heard in the Florida Supreme Court today.

In Florida, getting an initiative on the ballot has two main requirements: 683,149 signed petitions from registered Florida voters, and ballot language approval from the Florida Supreme Court. Floridians for Solar Choice is well on its way to collecting the needed signatures, with over 200,000 collected to date and an infrastructure of signature gathers, supporters and volunteers across the state. Polling has revealed tremendous support of the initiative as well, with 82% of voters in support of changing Florida law to allow solar companies to install solar panels on a home or business at no up-front cost and give them the right to sell the solar power they generate to the home or business owner. The second test is half-way done, with the Florida Supreme Court hearing completed this morning, Tuesday, September 1 in Tallahassee, Florida. Now that the hearing is completed, the coalition optimistically awaits a ruling.

Floridians have become a bit famous (and infamous) on the political scene over the past several election cycles, and 2016 promises to be just as dramatic as always. By most measures, Florida will be the biggest political battleground state in the 2016 presidential election. Coupled with the recent Clean Power Plan rollout and the ongoing federal ITC extension fight, the Sunshine State plays an absolutely critical part in the national solar war. The solar industry is already playing defense in many states across the country, dealing with attacks from all fronts; 2016 is the time to go on the offense. Florida has a unique opportunity to make a national statement on behalf of the solar industry: “We will fight, and we will win.” A big win for solar in this key swing state during the presidential election cycle is exactly what the solar industry needs.

Third party financing options have proven to be an important part of the solar equation. Recent research done by Greentech Media, reported that 72% of all residential solar installed in 2014 was the result of what the solar industry calls the third party ownership. Third party ownership includes lease models as well as power purchasing agreements (PPAs).  The solar industry has seen incredible growth in 15 out of the last 16 quarters, and this growth is largely attributed to this third party ownership option. The Floridians for Solar Choice initiative is working to bring that option to Florida residents and solar contractors.

While Floridians for Solar Choice is working to open the solar market in the Sunshine State, a deceptive counter-campaign has sprung up in the last month in an effort to maintain the status quo where Florida’s monopoly utilities control and squelch the development of the state’s solar industry. (You can learn more about this counter-campaign HERE.) NextEra and its subsidiary, Florida Power and Light (FPL), are leading this deception, having admitted to participating in writing the amendment, and are making significant financial contributions to the efforts to stop Floridians for Solar Choice. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Company, and Gulf Power Company are also making large financial contributions to this opposition campaign, in a desperate attempt to stop Solar Choice.

More Solar Choice in Florida will also mean more jobs and economic growth. The solar industry is adding jobs at a rate 10 times faster than other industries, but hardly any of those jobs are here in Florida. I have personally spoken with many solar companies in Florida that recognize Floridians for Solar Choice as an economic initiative. Right now, limits on financing and barriers to selling solar power mean that Floridians can only install solar if they can afford the upfront cost, leaving many families and businesses behind. Local installers currently have lists of potential customers who are eager to go solar as soon as financing options are available to them. Floridians for Solar Choice is working to provide this access. This model is proven across the nation; it’s time for Florida to catch up.

Alissa Schafer
Alissa Jean Schafer, M.S., manages solar communications and policy efforts for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Her role includes coalition and volunteer outreach, as well as public education and…
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