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State Supreme Court allows oral argument for Smart Solar amendment

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The Florida Supreme Court on Monday granted requests for oral argument on a hotly contested proposed constitutional amendment on solar power.

The court scheduled argument at 9 a.m. May 5 for the amendment called “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” and backed by Consumers For Smart Solar.

Among other requirements, proposed amendments to the state constitution must be OK’d by the court to ensure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

The proposed summary now reads:

This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Two groups backing competing solar amendments had been battling for placement on the ballot.

Floridians for Solar Choice, supported by the solar industry and business and consumer interests, had filed an opposition brief against the utility-supported Consumers for Smart Solar.

Its summary reads:

Limits or prevents government and electric utility imposed barriers to supplying local solar electricity. Local solar electricity supply is the non utility supply of solar generated electricity from a facility rated up to 2 megawatts to customers at the same or contiguous property as the facility. Barriers include government regulation of local solar electricity suppliers’ rates, service and territory, and unfavorable electric utility rates, charges, or terms of service imposed on local solar electricity customers.

The amendment from Floridians for Solar Choice already has been approved by the court, but its backers are saving it for the 2018 ballot because they did not reach the required 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1.

That amendment reported 289,463 valid signatures as of Monday, and current signatures will remain valid till the next statewide ballot. The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment has 720,395 signatures, according to the state Division of Elections.

The opposition brief‘s summary of argument says Consumers for Smart Solar’s amendment should be denied ballot placement, in part because its ballot title and summary “confuse and mislead voters by suggesting the amendment somehow relates to the ability of the consumer to exercise a right to make a ‘solar energy choice’ when none is granted.”

“When the summary purports that the amendment establishes this right, (it) creates a ‘false impression’ among voters, misleading them to believe that they must vote in favor of the amendment in order to have rights already afforded to them,” it says.

The Smart Solar amendment is backed by the state’s investor-owned utilities, including Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power Co., and Tampa Electric Co.

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 [email protected]

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