Thursday, September 8, 2016

Opponents gear up to battle utility-backed solar amendment in November

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 7:13 AM

Opponents of a solar-energy ballot initiative backed by major utilities rolled out a coalition Wednesday that links environmentalists and the Green Party of Florida with groups of Republicans and Libertarians.

The "Vote No On 1" campaign takes aim at a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that is supported by a group known as Consumers for Smart Solar.

The proposal — tagged as Amendment 1 due to its placement on the ballot — essentially would put into the state Constitution existing rules on the use of solar energy in Florida.

During a conference call with reporters, the critics of the proposal said the amendment would limit rooftop energy choices, reduce competition and further expand the "monopoly powers" of the state's giant utilities.

But Jim Kallinger, a former Republican lawmaker who is co-chairman of Consumers for Smart Solar, said later that the claims by the opponents "are simply not true."

"Amendment 1 neither authorizes nor prohibits third-party leasing (of solar equipment), and does not reduce competition or expand in their words a 'monopoly power' of the utilities," Kallinger said.

Libertarians and Republicans who have joined environmentalists in the "Vote No On 1" coalition said they signed on because they see the proposal expanding regulation and not benefiting the free market.

"Amendment 1 was never about increasing choice and energy production for consumers, it's always been tightening the chokehold the large power companies have on the people of Florida," said Alexander Snitker, who was the Libertarian Party's U.S. Senate candidate in 2010 and now represents the Liberty First PAC. "The large power company monopolies have been relying on a business model that is quickly becoming obsolete. Amendment 1 is a pitiful attempt to prolong their stranglehold on the market."

Candace Munz, communications director for the Capital Young Republicans, said the state needs to expand its solar-power output.

"I just find it extremely disappointing that Florida is ranked 17th currently in solar power generated," Munz said. "We all benefit from the use of clean, safe and inexpensive energy, and Amendment 1 will be making Florida less competitive."

Kallinger said the intent of the amendment is that it "merely protects the right of Floridians to generate their own solar electricity" while ensuring government continues to have a role that protects consumers against unfair subsidies.

Consumers for Smart Solar had raised $18.8 million as of Aug. 26 and had spent $15.8 million, according to the state Division of Elections website. Among its contributors, Duke Energy had put up $5.44 million, Florida Power & Light had contributed $4.6 million, Tampa Electric Co. had provided $2.56 million, and Gulf Power had added $1.8 million.

That spending should be a warning flag, opponents of the amendment said.

"Why are the utilities spending close to $20 million on this effort?" said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is part of the coalition opposing the measure. "They would not be spending this kind of money unless they wanted to get something for it, and or, cover something up. The only people the utilities are protecting are their shareholders and their profit."

Other groups opposing the proposal include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Floridians for Solar Choice, the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and the Christian Coalition.

Kallinger noted that polls have shown support for the amendment at over 70 percent, with backing from groups such as the Florida Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy and the 60 Plus Association.

Constitutional amendments require 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Voters will consider Amendment 1 after approving another alternative-energy amendment on the Aug. 30 primary ballot. That amendment, known as Amendment 4, had widespread support from environmental and business groups.

The Legislature-proposed Amendment 4, which calls for expanding a tax break to businesses on the use of renewable energy equipment, received 72.6 percent support from the 2.7 million Floridians who voted.

That amendment got majority votes in 66 of the state's counties, failing to get a majority of the vote in only DeSoto County. The amendment also just missed the 60 percent mark in lightly populated Hendry, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty and Taylor counties.

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