Florida Ballot Breakdown: Amendment 1, Pro Or Against Solar Energy?

Source: By David Sutta, CBS Miami • Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Solar Panels (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — This November we will be voting on a series of amendments. One of them involves solar power and whether utility companies can charge solar users special fees.

On the surface the amendment appears to be pro-solar but as CBS4’s David Sutta discovered, that may not be the case.

Amendment 1, Florida’s Solar Amendment, on its surface, appears to be straight forward. It says three things:

  • You have the right to own solar equipment in your home.
  • The state should protect you from fraud.
  • Whether you have solar or not, everyone will pay their fair share.

Alissa Jean Schafer with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says the amendment is very misleading.

“On its face, it sounds like it’s a pro-solar amendment but it’s actually not. Amendment 1 is actually bad for consumers. It’s bad for Floridians. The main reason is it’s being completely funded by the utilities and special interest in order to protect their monopoly,” said Schafer.

It turns out that almost every solar company and supporter is against Amendment 1. So who’s supporting it?

Despite what the commercials say, it actually is special interest funding the “Yes on 1” campaign. Florida’s utility companies have spent more than $21 million dollars.

Screven Watson is a board member for Consumers for Smart Solar, the group pushing the amendment.

“So I think they support this amendment because they believe it’s good solar policy. It doesn’t write a lot in stone. It just says, as you and I discussed, you have the right to solar. It leaves the government in the process to make sure that there is no unfairness or inequities in the system. I think that’s why they are supporting it,” Watson said.

He argues solar consumers are using less and less of the electrical grid and paying less in fees but the grid still needs to be maintained and improved. So who picks up that tab?

“What do the utility companies have to do,” Watson asks. “They are going to have to raise rates and they are going to have to raise rates on people who can’t afford it or just chose not to do solar. That’s not fair. That’s not what we want to do.”

This amendment would pave the way for a fee to be added to solar customers’ utility bills.

Schafer argues it’s unfair.

“It’s absolutely not fair and misleading to say your rates are going to go up because of solar. It’s actually the opposite. Solar could provide a way for more people to have access to lower rates. If more people go solar, it provides a way for large groups of people to have affordable energy,” said Schafer.

The solar industry believes they are being singled out for fees. They argue it’s the same for charging snowbirds a fee because they only use the grid a few months out of the year. In the end, they believe it’s about power company profits.

“Why else would they spend over $21 million dollars, then to protect that monopoly. There is no other reason. This is to protect their interest,” Schafer said

Watson who is with the utility backed group disagrees.

“They are advocating a different solar power policy. This isn’t their solar policy. So what they have done is turn this into a litmus test. Either you are pro-solar or against solar if you support their policy. There are some solar companies that are okay with this but a lot of them, it’s not their policy. Therefore, they are against it,” said Watson.

Amendment 1 needs 60% plus 1 to pass. Early polls suggest it has the support to pass. The utility backed campaign has rolled out very convincing radio and TV ads. Meanwhile, the opposition is taking a grass-roots approach. They argue this isn’t something you want in the state’s constitution but rather the public service commission to debate.