Florida solar advocates, utility backers face off in court over TPO ballot proposals
- Advocates for a constitutional amendment in Florida that would allow third party ownership for rooftop solar facilities made their case this week to the Florida Supreme Court. Solar advocates sought to prove that their proposed ballot language, which would permit solar owners to sell electricity directly, bypassing the utility, qualifies for the 2016 ballot.
- Lawyers representing Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), the group backing the proposed initiative, argued its language both fairly explains the amendment’s impact and is limited to a single subject, the requirements for an amendment to be listed on the ballot.
- Attorneys representing Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric Co., and Florida Power and Light, the state’s leading electric utilities, argued the FSC language is misleading.
The FSC group, which introduced its initiative last winter, has been called a Green Tea coalition because it is led by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), the Tea Party Network, Republican conservatives, and the Sierra Club.
“We are trying to open up the market,” said SACE Action Fund Florida Energy Policy Attorney George Cavros.
The utilities support a competing proposed amendment backed by Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS), a coalition representing former Democratic and Republican legislators, several Florida Chambers of Commerce, and conservative consumers, as well as the utilities.
“Our Smart Solar Amendment,” CSS Co-Chair Dick Batchelor wrote to Utility Dive, “makes it a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment to generate their own electricity.”
To get on the 2016 ballot, an initiative’s petition must have 683,149 verified voters’ signatures and the language must be approved by the state Supreme Court. FSC’s petition, Cavros said, has about 170,000 signatures. It is entitled Limits or Prevents Barriers to Local Solar Electricity Supply.
CSS is obtaining signatures as well. “We are on track to complete the signature drive by the February 1 certification deadline,” Batchelor reported. Its title: Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.
The crux of the issue is whether companies that install solar are able to sell electricity directly to consumers, rather than sending it to the utility, which then pushes it on to customers. FSC supporters say the lack of direct sales creates an unfair monopoly on the electric system in the state; CSS supporters say lifting the prohibition on direct sales would remove critical regulatory protections on generators that utilities now face.
The Florida Supreme Court will not weigh in on the merits of the proposals, but whether the language is appropriate to be on the ballot in 2016.