- The Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to approve the language in the utility-backed ballot solar amendment for the 2016 election cycle, the Associated Press reports.
- The Consumers for Solar Choice in a brief argued the amendment establishes a right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment and help local and state governments protect consumer rights and public safety while ensuring costs for electricity delivery are not shifted to non-distributed solar owners. The court's ruling means it cleared its final hurdle to land a place on the 2016 ballot.
- But Judge Barbara Pariente disagreed and said in her dissent that the amendment’s language misleads solar buyers because it doesn't give them an actual "choice" to choose energy alternatives and aims to kill the other amendment aiming to legalize third-party financing.
Two dueling ballot initiatives are trying to resolve whether or not third-party providers have the right to sell electricity directly to consumers without being classified as a utility.
One ballot amendment, backed by Floridians for Solar Choice, would legalize third party ownership (TPO) of distributed solar in Florida and allow customers with systems of 2 MW or less to sell electricity directly to other consumers. The CSS proposal would establish a constitutional right in Florida for customers “to own or lease solar” but wouldn't legalize TPO financing.
Utility filings argued the CSS amendment "provides an essential, balanced approach to what is expected to be the continuing development and expansion of solar power in Florida."
Environmental groups argued the CSS amendment will open the door for utilities to impose discriminatory charges and rates on solar owners.
Judge Pariente, who dissented, wrote "the amendment’s ballot title and summary also fail the statutory requirement for accuracy because their misleading language creates a false impression that existing rights are newly created by the amendment, confuses as to the chief purpose of the amendment, and misleads voters that the amendment concerns consumer choices among solar energy alternatives."
The CSS proposal was formed in response to TPO-advocacy group FSC. FSC argued that the CSS amendment was initiated to distract state residents from efforts to legalize TPO financing. FSC highlighted a Miami Herald report that said some who signed petitions for the utility-backed amendment thought they were supporting FSC.
The state's four major electric utilities, Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, and Tampa Electric, have all together donated nearly $4 million to CSS, according to Politico. The group also secured more than the 683,149 validated signatures required to qualify for the ballot.
While the FSC's language was approved earlier in 2015 for the upcoming election ballot this year, a payment dispute with a consulting firm hired to secure signed petitions led to FSC failing to get the required number of signatures. The FSC is now "exploring options for 2018."