Florida's solar industry takes a few steps back...one step forward

Blog Post

The Sunshine State has yet to gain momentum in the push for solar energy. This last year, however, has shown at least some movement in the right direction. 

As I noted in an earlier post, Floridians for Solar Choice made a push to pass an amendment to the Florida Constitution to grant businesses and individuals the right to generate and sell less than 2 megawatts of solar energy to adjoining property owners. Consumers for Smart Solar, a group supported by many of Florida’s utility companies, opposed the proposed amendment on the grounds the amendment would drive up costs for non-solar customers whose costs for maintaining the power grid would increase as other consumers switched to home-generated solar and failed to adequately build in consumer protections.

As an alternative, Consumers for Smart Solar proposed an amendment which the group argued established a right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment, 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. Both proposed amendments battled to gain the support of Floridians, but only the amendment proposed by Consumers for Smart Solar will be appearing on the ballot this coming fall. The amendment proposed by Floridians for Solar Choice failed to collect the necessary signatures by the statutory deadline in order to earn a spot on the 2016 ballot.

While a definite step back, Floridians for Solar Choice will now work to get their proposed amendment on the ballot in 2018. In the short run, Floridians for Solar Choice has refocused their efforts to campaign against the amendment proposed by Consumers for Smart Solar.

Floridians for Solar Choice argues that the amendment supported by Consumers for Smart Solar is itself a step in the wrong direction. Dr. Stephen A. Smith, a board member of Floridians for Solar Choice and an executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, stated that the proposed amendment protects only utility shareholders and seeks to limit non-utility solar options in Florida. While consumers can generate solar energy for sale, they will only be able to sell solar energy directly to the utilities. In her dissent to the decision approving the proposed amendment, Florida Supreme Court Justice Pariente wrote:

The biggest problem with the proposed amendment lies not with what the [ballot] summary says, but rather, with what it does not say... There is already a right to use solar equipment for individual use afforded by the Florida Constitution and existing Florida statutes and regulations. It does not explain that the amendment will elevate the existing rights of the government to regulate solar energy use and establish that regulatory power as a constitutional right in Florida ... This ballot initiative is the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep's clothing.’

A step in the right direction

The solar market may be on the verge of taking a step in the right direction this year. The Florida Senate recently passed Florida House Joint Resolution 193, Solar or Renewable Energy Source Devices, which will allow the proposed legislation to appear on the 2016 ballot in the fall. If the resolution passes, the amendment not only would exempt solar panels and other renewable energy source devices from ad valorem and tangible personal property tax, but also would prohibit the county property appraisers from taking such devices into account when determining the taxable value of real property.

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