Solar Petition Shines in Oral Argument at Court

George Cavros | September 2, 2015 | Energy Policy, Solar
Solar advocates likely came one step closer yesterday to allowing third party retail solar sales in Florida. The Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) legal team went before the Florida Supreme Court to gain its approval to have the solar choice question placed on the 2016 ballot. After yesterday’s oral argument, solar choice supporters have reason to smile.

Court review is required for every petition prior to it being allowed to go before voters. The Justices review the petition language to ensure that it contains a single subject, and that the title and summary are not misleading. Yesterday’s oral argument was the final step in the review. A decision could be out by the Court within a month.

FSC Attorney Bob Nabors insisted that the language contains a “oneness of purpose” that surgically allows both third party solar sales by Local Solar Electricity Suppliers, with system sizes up to 2 MW, and prevents state and local regulation that has the effect of prohibiting such sales. He reminded the justices that the petition “does no more and no less.”

Nabors also skillfully reminded the justices that threshold for approval an amendment is that the title and ballot summary must inform that average voter of the chief purpose of the amendment without misleading the voter as to the important effects of the initiative – and it does just that. He continued to state in order to be removed, a title and summary must be clearly and conclusively defective.

The attorneys representing the power companies and the Attorney General’s office argued that the petition if enacted would have significant impacts on traditional utility regulation in Florida. They insisted that the language was misleading and strayed from a single subject, then proceeded to document all sorts of doomsday scenarios. They were reminded on more than one occasion by the Justices to focus their arguments on how the ballot language did not meet constitutional standards. Justice Pariente at one point even stated that the Court understood that the power companies did not like the proposed amendment, but that was not the issue before the Court.

Opponents, once refocused, offered arguments that the title and summary were misleading because it did not inform voters that Public Service Commission would no longer regulate such entities as to service, territory, or rates, and that words like “barriers” and “unfavorable” were editorializing and misleading. Those arguments appeared to fall flat and ring hollow to the Court.  Don’t take my word for it, view the oral argument here.

If approved by the Court, supporters of the petition must still gather a total of 683,149 verified signatures – they have collected more than 200,000 already. While it’s always a speculative endeavor to predict what decision the Court will render, from this attorney’s perspective, the Floridians for Solar Choice legal team clearly prevailed in the oral argument before the Court.

Today, the sun is shining quite a bit brighter on the FSC solar petition gaining Court approval.    

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