Solar amendment proposal continues to roil Florida conservatives

in 2017/Top Headlines by

One of the most interesting citizen-generated political development in Florida this year is the coalition attempting to get a ballot measure on the 2016 ballot that would give businesses and property owners the ability to sell a limited amount of solar energy. Florida is one of only four states in the union that prohibit citizens from buying electricity from anyone other than a utility.

The Floridians for Solar Choice coalition consists of free-market conservatives, retailers and alternative-energy supporters. Member groups include the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, the Christian Coalition of America, the Libertarian Party of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida. It’s being coordinated by the Florida Green Tea Coalition, led by Atlanta Tea Party head Debbie Dooley and  Oldsmar Republican Tony Perfetti.

But there are a faction of Tea Party Republicans who wince at the idea that they support the measure. In fact, they say it’s quite the opposite, and have signaled their opposition to the proposal during debates that have been held in Tampa and, most recently, the Villages between advocates and opponents of the proposal.

A blog post written by H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow with the Heartland Institute, appeared on that organization’s website on Tuesday. Burnett writes about last week’s debate between Heartland’s James M. Taylor and Alexander Snitker, vice president of the Libertarian Party of Florida at the Villages.  Dooley was scheduled to debate, but tells Florida Politics that a blood clot that began forming in her legs after a cross-country flight prevented her from traveling down from Atlanta last week.

“When I was originally scheduled to speak at The Villages Tea Party, it was just me speaking because Mr. Taylor had spoken a few months prior,” Dooley explains. “I was called a month prior and told Mr. Taylor had called wanting to speak the same night as I was. I agreed and looked forward to the debate even though I knew members of The Villages Tea Party were strongly anti-solar and close to Mr. Taylor.”

In the Heartland post, Taylor accuses Dooley of chickening out of debating him.

“When Debbie Dooley learned I was educating my fellow Floridians about the pitfalls of granting the solar power industry a new and special monopoly, she sent me unsolicited emails from Atlanta threatening to publicly ‘expose’ me and saying she would debate me anytime, anywhere on the topic,” Taylor says in Burnett’s story. “When I suggested debating her in front of her small group of supporters in Atlanta, she refused to do so. When I followed up by accepting an invitation from The Villages Tea Party to debate her in Florida, she failed to show up. Will Dooley ever back up her gratuitous bluster?”

Dooley fired back today.

“Mr. Taylor gives outright false information about solar and the Florida Ballot Initiative,” she writes in an email. “I don’t allow speakers at Atlanta Tea Party events that resort to lies. I would be happy to debate Mr. Taylor in Florida at another date at a neutral site open to the public. True conservatives champion free market choice — not government-created monopolies. It is unfortunate that Mr. Taylor and Heartland choose to ignore free- market choice and instead seek to protect monopolies from competition and deprive Floridians of the right to engage in commerce with the power produced on their private property.”
The proposed solar power constitutional amendment would, in part, allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of power to customers on the same or neighboring properties, bypassing the public utility companies. Advocates say it opens up the energy market and gives consumers choice. As Burnett writes, some free-market advocates say that any proposal that designates a single industry sector to operate a newly created monopoly is antithetical to free markets and consumer choice.
Dooley and others with the Green Tea Coalition have previously engaged in harsh exchanges with the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers-funded libertarian group. In response to similar criticisms, she responded earlier this year by writing that, “Coalition groups decided to choose one regulatory barrier for the ballot initiative, so voters can understand it easily and decide whether or not to support it based on this one issue. There are other barriers to free markets in energy not addressed by the initiative, and conservatives in the coalition believe we should eliminate those as well. But we have to start somewhere, and opening markets for solar energy in the Sunshine State is a good first step.”

The Heartland Institute is a Chicago-based free-market think tank and 501 (c)(3) charity that has been at the forefront of denying the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. On their website they prominently feature a quote from the Economist that calls them “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”


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