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At Tampa Tiger Bay Club, clean energy leader slams utility-backed solar power amendment

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A leading environmental activist says that the solar amendment being backed by Florida’s investor-owned utilities is doomed to be rejected when it comes before the Florida Supreme Court.

Susan Glickman is the Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the organization that was raising funds to put an amendment on the ballot in 2016 that would provide Floridians the opportunity to purchase solar power from a third-party. Currently, consumers can buy electricity — solar or otherwise — only from utilities.

The measure won’t be on the ballot, however, after officials with Floridians for Solar Choice ended their quest last month, acknowledging that they would not be able to procure 683,149 verified signatures by Feb. 1, the deadline to qualify for the November ballot.

Speaking at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club Friday with Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission Chair Janet Dougherty, Glickman blasted an opposing solar power amendment that she said had spent more than $10 million to essentially “mislead and confuse people.”

(According to the Florida Division of Elections website, Consumers for Smart Solar have spent $6.6 million as of the end of December on their measure, but Glickman said the group “spent a lot of money through the utilities themselves that they don’t have to report.”)

“They formed an initiative that would enshrine current law in the Constitution,” Glickman said about Consumers for Smart Solar’s goal. “And current law has gotten us less than one-tenth of 1 percent of our energy needs met with solar.”

Although Floridians for Solar Choice came up hundreds of thousands of signatures short of qualifying for the ballot this year, the group’s efforts haven’t stopped, as they have 10 months to collect signatures that would be viable for the 2018 ballot.

Glickman says the future is very bright indeed for solar in the Sunshine State, saying that combined with Consumers for Smart Solar’s signature gathering efforts, over a million people signed petitions in 2015 wanting access to solar power. She came to that conclusion, “because the utility backed initiatives (signatures gatherers) were misleading people out on the campaign trail and telling them that it was solar choice … which is why I believe the Florida Supreme Court will strike down their language.”

Adam Bantner, the head of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club, told members that officials with Consumers for Smart Solar had been invited to the forum but had declined the invitation.

Consumers for Smart Solar representative Sarah Bascom issued this statement to Florida Politics late Friday afternoon.

“It is unfortunate that time and again Floridians for Solar Choice continues to blame everyone else for not making the 2016 ballot. Their apparent failure is simply the result of Florida voters seeing their true motives behind their amendment.

“No matter what ballot their amendment may or may not be on, it does not change the fact that they are promoting a bad idea that deserves to fail. An independent Mason-Dixon poll showed that their amendment is only supported by 30 percent of Florida voters. Florida voters know that it’s a bad idea to put one industry’s business model into the constitution and then make that industry immune to common sense consumer protections laws, and force a new tax on all Floridians to subsidize that industry.

“From the beginning, our amendment has been clear, straightforward and unambiguous, and deals with only one subject. We remain confident that our amendment will appear on the 2016 ballot for the people of Florida to decide.

“Our amendment is protective in nature, it protects the rights of consumers and protects the ability of state and local governments to protect consumers.  Regardless of the decisions that the Legislature makes now or in the future, it ensures the protections and rights stay in place.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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