Florida: Sunshine, Solar Power, and Shenanigans

The Orlando Sun-Sentinel carried an op-ed by Paula Dockery on a deceptive solar power amendment on the November ballot. This should be a must-read article for any Florida voter. Ms. Dockery covers the topic quite well, leaving little for me to say, though I’m going to say some things anyway. The first, and most important, is that you should vote NO on Amendment 1 on the ballot. Despite the source being given as “Consumers for Smart Solar”, this is a power industry created and backed amendment that seeks to place limits on how solar power gets used in the state of Florida. It is not an amendment that would make solar power easy to finance, install, or operate; quite the opposite.

Florida is one of the best states in the USA for putting up solar power installations on the basis of physics, and right in the middle in terms of prevailing policies governing installation and use of solar systems connected to the power grid. This latter condition has come about because of long-term lobbying by the power industry that has blocked favorable solar power legislation and pushed legislation that makes it less attractive to go to the cost and effort of installing solar power. The power industry was able to push for the end of solar power rebates in 2015, curtailing one of the few incentives to go solar in the state.

The amendment got on the ballot because the power industry was concerned about a grass-roots effort to put a pro-solar power amendment on the ballot. The grass roots effort failed to get enough petition signatures, but the power industry effort succeeded (they paid professionals to collect their signatures). So there is but one amendment concerning solar power on the ballot, and it is a bad one. As Ms. Dockery ably points out, this is a proposed constitutional amendment; if the amendment passes, its effects will be as close to permanent as one can get, since the process of repealing an amendment is fraught with difficulties. The amendment description is artfully worded to make it appear that what one is voting on would promote solar power use in Florida, but what it actually delivers are a bunch of regulations that preserve the status quo that locks people into the current power grid and curtails potential competition from small businesses. In some other states, companies can front the costs of solar installations and lease them to property owners, who typically get an immediate discount off their power bills. In Florida, Amendment 1 would make sure that kind of common-sense financing does not become sanctioned. That means that if you want a solar power installation, you get to figure out financing the whole thing up front and dealing with having a break-even point of about 13 years on the investment or doing some style of loan to get there.

I would also recommend reading the section on opposition of the amendment at Ballotpedia.

I can’t improve on Ms. Dockery’s closing statements from her op-ed:

It takes 60 percent of the vote to pass. The utilities will be spending millions more in sunny-sounding TV ads.

Don’t be fooled by their clever ploy. Vote no on Amendment 1 and let them know you’re smarter than they think.

Disclosure: I grew up in the same neighborhood as the Dockery family, though I’ve never met Paula in person. Carl and I used to play “tag” football as kids.

Update: Thank you to all the folks who voted “no” on the deceptive ballot measure. Florida is still not friendly to solar power on a distributed basis, but at least the regressive opponents haven’t been handed the sort of control they were seeking. I also got an email suggesting a link to Understand Solar, which looks like a reasonable resource offhand.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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