Pro-solar or not? Clarifying Florida’s Amendment 1
By Jamsheed Cooper
Voters in Florida have an important constitutional amendment on the ballot this November 8—but the effects of the amendment may not be immediately clear when you’re in the voting booth. Today, we’re delving into it so you understand exactly what Amendment 1, or the Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative, could mean for solar in the Sunshine State.
Here’s exactly what the amendment says:
“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.”
Arguments for Amendment 1
Honestly, it sounds okay at first blush. Amendment 1’s s primary proponent, Consumers for Smart Solar, says the amendment “provides a constitutional framework for solar in the Sunshine State, which will keep politicians and special-interest groups from tampering with it.”
Other supporters of this amendment include utility companies in the state such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and the Tampa Electric Company, which have contributed a total of over $26 million to Consumers for Smart Solar. In various advertisements that were aired around the state, utility companies state that the measure “guarantees your right to generate your own solar electricity…protects consumers, those who choose solar and those who don’t. [Those who don’t] won’t have to subsidize those who do.”
The truth comes out
On October 18th 2016, an audio tape was released that confirmed what many opponents of Amendment 1 have claimed for a long time: that it is an attempt to mislead voters into supporting a measure that would restrict solar power rather than expand it.
The audio was of Sal Nuzzo, the vice-president of the James Madison Institute, a Florida-based think tank. At the State Energy/Environment Leadership Summit in West Palm Beach, Nuzzo claimed that the Consumers for Smart Solar’s measure was a “savvy maneuver” marketed to appeal to free-market and pro-solar voters while its actual purpose was to “completely negate anything they would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”
The real results of Amendment 1
Opponents anticipate several negative outcomes of Amendment 1 regarding the cost, use and accessibility of solar power in Florida.
First of all, Amendment 1 provides for many laws and rights that are already in place in the state legislature. It seeks to “establish the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property”—but people already have that right, so that element of the amendment is unnecessary. And the amendment’s effects only get less appealing from there.
If Amendment 1 passes, it could potentially prohibit the practice of net metering. Net metering requires utility companies to buy surplus power produced by consumers, which reduces the utility company’s production costs and the consumer’s usage costs. The language of Amendment 1 could allow utility companies to argue that the practice is a subsidy of sorts for solar power, which could be used to convince lawmakers against adopting it, despite nationwide use.
That potential limitation is concerning, because in a study from the Brookings Institution found that “net metering is more often than not a net benefit to the grid and all ratepayers.” Net metering reduces costs for utilities and consumers, and it reduces the need for additional power plants and grid upkeep. Last but not least, it incentivizes customers to produce excess solar energy at no further monetary or environmental cost, so an amendment that negatively affects net metering would negatively affect the grid and consumers overall.
The amendment could also lead the way for more fees and regulations on the generation and use of solar power, in effect stifling its expansion. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, voiced his concern in Politico that if the amendment passes, “utilities will go to the Public Service Commission and request extra charges on customer with solar panels while claiming support from this referendum.”
So while Amendment 1’s language seems palatable, a closer look at its effects makes it clear that it could discourage solar adoption and make it tougher to achieve truly independent power generation within the public domain. The impact of Amendment 1 is far reaching, and would make future corrections to Florida’s solar energy policy extremely difficult, at the expense of the energy consumers as well as the environment.
Get to the polls
In order for the amendment to pass, it would need a “yes” vote from at least 60% of voters tomorrow. Back in September, polling from St. Leo University showed support around 84%, but since then, support has dropped more than 20 points—to just under 60%. That’s right on the cusp, so it’s all going to come down to election day. Make sure to vote!
Jamsheed Cooper is a biomedical engineering student at The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. His interests within environmental conservation include renewable energy, carbon emissions and climate policy legislation. He plans to attend law school in the future to work in environmental, healthcare and civil rights law. In his free time, he enjoys playing blues guitar and hiking.