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2016 General Election: Amendment 1

You’ve probably heard a lot about Amendment 1. All kinds of cheerful ads on Twitter and Facebook with smiling suns are telling you to vote yes on it.

But voting yes hurts solar energy’s expansion across Florida. It will remove the incentive that encourages people to take on the big up-front costs of installing solar in their homes and businesses. And it will set the stage for utility companies to monopolize solar energy down the line.

This is what it means to vote —

Yes:

Mechanisms that bring down the cost of solar for individuals and businesses go away. Their solar costs go up over time, making it less likely they’ll try it out. This positions utility companies for having a monopoly on solar energy.

No:

Everything stays the same. Individuals and businesses with solar continue getting credit in their power bills for solar power they produce.

Back in August, 73 percent of Florida voters approved another amendment that promotes solar. Clearly we’re all about expanding it. Utility companies noticed — and designed a ballot item meant to sound pro-solar. It’s working, because polling shows that 66 percent of Florida voters say they support it. How could Floridians be both pro-solar and support this measure? Let’s break it down.

Here’s what you’ll see on your ballot:

NO. 1 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ARTICLE X, SECTION 29

Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do. The amendment is not expected to result in an increase or decrease in any revenues or costs to state and local government.

What it actually means:

First sentence: This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.

Translation: Floridians can own or lease solar panels and make energy. This is actually already legal, so it changes nothing.

Second sentence, part 1: State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare

Translation: What it sounds like, and yeah, they already do this part — or at least the law already lets them.

Second sentence, part 2: and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Translation: This is the biggie. Utilities companies say non-solar users are subsidizing solar users through a process called net metering.

Net metering means if you have a house that uses solar you’re making energy and the energy you don’t use goes into the larger power grid for utility companies to distribute and sell. You get “credit” for this — essentially you get money off your monthly power bill.

Utility companies say this is effectively a subsidy, and should go away because it’s not fair to non-solar consumers.

That’s because even with fewer consumers, they still have to support the same amount of electricity infrastructure. Even if your house is covered in solar panels, you can’t go completely off the grid.

Power infrastructure costs money to maintain, and solar users aren’t contributing as much because their bills have gone down. Utility companies argue that the conventional energy consumers and the utility companies are therefore shouldering more of the cost.

But it also costs a lot of money to install solar. The incentive for taking on those costs is that there’s a payoff in the long run because your bills go down. If that perk disappears, it’s going to be a lot harder to motivate individuals to try out solar — who can do this a lot faster than the utility companies can.

This language also means it might be harder for businesses and individuals to sell their excess solar energy directly to consumers, something that already happens in 36 other states (but not Florida, because we’re not set up for it yet and the law says only utility companies can sell energy).

By the way, utility companies around Florida are actually building solar power plants because it’s a super cheap way to harness energy. That means that they’ll likely have a monopoly over solar in a few years since they’re trying to disincentivize individuals from producing their own. That means they get to decide what it will cost consumers.

Third sentence: The amendment is not expected to result in an increase or decrease in any revenues or costs to state and local government.

Translation: Is it gonna cost the government any money? They say nope.

Here’s how this crazy misleading language got on the ballot.

This ballot item was sent to the Florida Supreme Court for review a little less than a year ago (Nov. 24, 2015.) It was sponsored by Consumers for Smart Solar, a group funded by Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power Co. They spent $4.5 million to collect more than 700,000 signatures (you need 683,149 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot).

Floridians for Solar Choice, a group backed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, submitted a competing measure and raised roughly $2 million, but only got 274,582 signatures, so couldn’t make it to the ballot.

In January, they filed a brief against the amendment at the Florida Supreme Court, saying the ballot item was misleading — that it sounds like it’ll increase access to solar, but it’ll actually impede it. In March, the Supreme Court voted 4-3 that it was not misleading and should move to the ballot in November.

In August, 73 percent of Floridians voted to pass Amendment 4, which gives businesses a break on their property taxes if they install solar panels or other renewable energy. For example, a business whose property is worth $1 million installs solar panels worth $300,000. Now the property is worth $1.3 million, but the business is not taxed on the $300,000 part, just the original $1 million.

What this shows is that Floridians are all about expanding solar. But does this amendment do that? Probs not.

Supporters have produced a few shady ads like this one and recently the policy director of a think tank hired by Florida’s utility companies admitted that the utility companies were intentionally deceiving voters because solar polls well in the Sunshine State. Read more about that here.

Who says yes

Consumers for Smart Solar
Florida Power & Light
Duke Energy
Tampa Electric Co.
Gulf Power Co.

Who says no

Floridians for Solar Choice
Solar companies
Republican, Democrat, and environmental advocacy groups
Various media editorial boards:
Miami Herald
Sun-Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Tampa Bay Times

If nothing else, think about that: the key people backing this amendment are the people who make money off of producing energy. Stay woke, Miami.