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Lawyer for solar initiative predicts ‘no fiscal impact’

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The lawyer for the group behind one of two proposed constitutional amendments on solar power Monday told a panel of state economists he expected the initiative would have “no fiscal impact” if passed.

Attorney Neal McAliley of the White & Case law firm, representing Consumers for Smart Solar, spoke before the Financial Impact Estimating Conference on Monday.

McAliley told the panel the amendment essentially would be a net wash on state finances.

According to its ballot summary, it would create a constitutional right “for consumers to own or lease solar equipment … to generate electricity for their own use” while ensuring other utility users “are not required to subsidize (their) costs of backup power and electric grid access.”

Now, homeowners can put solar panels on their roofs because of the “absence of a prohibition,” McAliley said. The amendment would create “an affirmative right” to own or lease solar equipment on one’s property, he added. 

“I have them on my roof,” said McAliley, an “acknowledged authority on environmental law and litigation,” according to his firm’s website.

Orlando Garcia, a legislative analyst for the Florida Association of Counties, also told the conference that electricity generated on one’s property from solar technology would be taxable, but those owners would be responsible for paying tax directly to the state.

Some on the panel, however, had as-yet unanswered questions about whether the language could limit the state or local governments from regulating solar power in the future, and whether that would affect the amendment’s financial impact.

Consumers for Smart Solar, a utility-backed coalition, has gathered 139,560 of the 683,149 valid signatures needed to get on the 2016 ballot, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Getting a financial impact statement is part of the process for ballot placement. At least two more workshops are scheduled.

A competing amendment, sponsored by Floridians for Solar Choice, already has been OK’d by the state Supreme Court.

Consumers for Smart Solar also has questioned a new monthly fee the other amendment would create. Floridians for Solar Choice attorney Bob Nabors has said there would be a “standby charge” that would be “uniformly applied.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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