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Solar Amendment 1 flames out

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Amendment 1, the contentious solar-power ballot initiative supported by the state’s investor-owned utilities, pulled an Icarus and melted down.

The amendment failed Tuesday night with only 51 percent of the statewide vote. In Florida, proposed amendments must receive no less than 60 percent to pass.

Public support for the initiative had cratered in recent months, according to opinion polls, from the low-80s in September to just below the needed 60 percent by last month.

That was after opponents barraged it with a series of negative ads, and newspapers opposed it in blistering editorials, calling it a “scam” and a “Trojan horse.”

“Florida’s big power companies tried to pull a fast one on voters and trick them into amending our State Constitution to make it more costly to put solar on your roof,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund and a leader of the “No on One” campaign. “Thankfully, Florida citizens saw through this con job.” 

The nail in the coffin may well have been a recent Times/Herald report about Sal Nuzzo, the conservative James Madison Institute‘s vice president of policy.

Nuzzo was secretly recorded at an out-of-state conference saying the amendment was “political jujitsu” with an aim to “completely negate” the future efforts of pro-solar interests.

Ironically, Nuzzo’s employer later disowned his comments, saying the organization had no role in the initiative.

With Nuzzo’s comments as fodder, opponents went to the Florida Supreme Court — which had narrowly approved the amendment’s ballot placement in the first place — and asked for it to be invalidated. That request was unanimously denied.

If approved, the amendment would have granted a constitutional right “to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use,” its summary says.

Florida remains one of only four states where it’s illegal for anyone other than a utility to sell power, under a monopoly system set up decades ago.

It also would have “ensure(d) that consumers who do not … install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

The amendment’s backers — including Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, and others — raised over $26 million since last year and spent more than $25 million to get the amendment on the ballot and campaign for its passage.

Those proponents and others said the amendment would simply prevent non-solar users from subsidizing the solar users who profit from the excess energy that they produce.

But opponents, including clean-power advocates, countered that meant users of sun-derived power who sell their excess energy back to the grid would be penalized.

“If the amendment passes, people who install rooftop solar could end up with higher utility bills than if they did not have solar,” said now-retired Earthjustice attorney David Guest earlier this year.

The initiative, officially called “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” was barely approved by the Florida Supreme Court on a 4-3 vote for placement on the 2016 statewide ballot.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justice R. Fred Lewis joined the court’s conservatives, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, while Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, and James E.C. Perry dissented.

“Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware,” Pariente wrote in her March dissent. “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

In a footnote, she went on: The proposed amendment “may actually have the effect of diminishing some rights of solar energy consumers.”

Background provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

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