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Solar Amendment Backers Give Up On 2016 Ballot; Shift Focus To 2018

solar panels on roof
Marufish via Flickr

A coalition trying to expand who can provide solar energy in Florida formally shifted its focus Monday toward trying to pass a ballot initiative in 2018.

Members of the group "Floridians for Solar Choice," which had fallen behind in qualifying for the November 2016 ballot and remains in the midst of a contract dispute with a petition-gathering firm, announced the change during a news conference at the Florida Press Center in Tallahassee.

"Our coalition, at the onset, was committed to building a broad set of solar polices that could grow the solar industry. And we remain committed to that," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a key supporter of the coalition. "Our coalition is not going away."

The proposal has drawn opposition — and a rival solar-energy initiative — from a group backed by major Florida utilities.

When asked Monday if it would also shift its focus to 2018, that utility-backed group known as "Consumers for Smart Solar," said in an email that it is "committed to promoting solar in a way that protects consumers."

"Our opponent's failure to make the ballot does not affect our commitment to do what's right for the people of Florida," Consumers for Smart Solar spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.
With support from Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric, Consumers for Smart Solar has raised far more money than Floridians for Solar Choice. As of Nov. 30, Consumers for Smart Solar had raised $5.9 million, while Floridians for Solar Choice had raised $1.49 million. Updated finance reports are due Monday night.

The move by Floridians for Solar Choice gives the coalition more time to collect the needed petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. However, it would also put the issue before voters in a non-presidential election, when Democratic turnout is generally lower.

The Floridians for Solar Choice initiative would allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of solar power to customers on the same or neighboring properties. The group's supporters also announced plans Monday to file a brief in the Florida Supreme Court opposing the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal, which still needs court approval of its ballot wording.

"This misleading ballot amendment is bad for consumers, bad for the environment and bad for Florida," said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice, a Floridians for Solar Choice coalition member.

Smith said the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal is aimed at confusing voters in an effort to keep the Floridians for Solar Choice proposal from getting approved.

"It is unfortunate that Florida continues to treat solar energy differently and continues to maintain barriers to free market growth of this energy source," said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, which has received Supreme Court approval of its ballot proposal.

The Consumers for Smart Solar measure, which would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies, is close to submitting the required number of valid signatures to appear on the ballot. It had submitted 582,155 signatures as of Monday morning.

Initiatives face a Feb. 1 deadline to submit 683,149 petition signatures to the state. As of Monday morning, Floridians for Solar Choice had submitted 274,582 valid signatures.

In late December, Floridians for Solar Choice filed a lawsuit against petition-gathering firm PCI Consultants Inc., which is holding 212,000 signed petition signatures as it seeks payment for expenses that Floridians for Solar Choice contends are beyond what the group agreed to pay.

© 2016 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.

Photo "solar panels" used under Creative Commons license.