Conservative group opposes solar amendment following Tampa debate

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After a debate this past month, a Tampa Bay group that says it promotes a return to constitutional government and free markets has come out against a proposed constitutional amendment that would encourage the use of solar energy.

Floridians for Solar Choice proposes a constitutional amendment that would promote local, small-scale solar energy production and prohibit barriers to solar energy. The group has collected enough petition signatures for Florida Supreme Court review but still needs more than 600,000 to get the measure on the ballot.

On March 24, Floridians for Solar Choice Chairman Tory Perfetti debated James M. Taylor of the Heartland Institute in front of members of the Tampa 912 Project. The group says it has more than 2,000 members.

On Monday, the group’s board wrote in an emailed statement that its approach to governance is through legislation rather than constitutional amendments.

“This amendment sidesteps the legislative process and leads to a direct democracy which is contrary to a representative republic and could lead to mob rule,” the group said.

“We support a Florida legislative effort that leads to free markets for all energy sources,” the group said. “There is currently proposed legislation before the Florida Legislature that achieves similar goals to the solar amendment initiative.”

The statement didn’t refer to the specific legislation that achieves goals similar to the constitutional amendment.

SB 1118 and HB 1077 may come closest to the constitutional amendment by allowing an owner of a commercial or business property owner to sell energy to its tenants or to a neighboring property.

Neither bill has been heard in a committee and are likely dead in the 2015 Legislative session.

On Monday, Perfetti said the bills are “nonviable” because they don’t allow residential customers to participate in reducing their utility bills. He disagreed with Tampa 912 Project’s stance against taking the constitutional amendment route.

“While I do respect people’s opinions, I find it very difficult to understand the reasoning behind the mentioning of mob rule when the constitutional amendment process has been enshrined in this country from the very beginning by our founding fathers who could be considered much smarter than many of us today,” Perfetti told Floridapolitics.com.

When they announced their initiative in January, supporters of the solar amendment, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, touted the conservative and business backing of groups such as Conservatives for Energy Freedom and the Florida Retail Federation.

However, this past month Americans for Prosperity-Florida and the James Madison Institute criticized the amendment. Representatives of cities and electric utilities last week raised concerns that some of the $2.9 billion in state and local tax revenue collected by utilities could be lost under the amendment.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.