What to Know About Florida’s Solar Power Fight

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By Jonathan Deesing
PV Solar Report guest contributor

Solar in Florida has shown a lot of innovation in recent years—from community solar programs to forward-thinking businesses like IKEA and LEGOLAND. However, Florida’s solar power industry has seen both support and opposition; and an upcoming state constitutional amendment vote could spell boom or bust for solar advocates in the state.

Amendment 4 offers tax breaks

In August 2016, Amendment 4 — which modifies Florida’s constitution so that residents and businesses do not need to pay property tax on solar panels and devices — passed with 73% of the vote.

This property tax break is meant as an incentive to grow solar power use in Florida, and it applies retroactively, so that any resident or company that already has solar panels no longer has to pay property tax on them. Proponents of Amendment 4 hope that its passing will result in job creation, a more varied selection of energy options in the state, and reduced energy costs.

Amendment 1

Though Amendment 4 received bipartisan support, Amendment 1 has had a tumultuous road. Amendment 1 proposes adding current solar laws to the state constitution, making them much more difficult to change. Opponents argue that these existing solar laws are anti-consumer and only benefit utility companies that hold a monopoly in the state. Put simply, the amendment will solidify utilities’ monopoly, limit new competition, and allow them to charge solar customers higher rates for power.

The amendment was narrowly approved for the upcoming ballot by a 4-3 vote in the Florida Supreme Court.

Consumers for Smart Solar is the main supporter of Amendment 1, and was responsible for raising the more than $18 million to push the measure. The group claims that Amendment 1 will protect solar customers from the types of scams that have occurred in other states, guarantee Floridians the right to create their own solar power, and make sure that homeowners who do not use solar power won’t be required to subsidize any electrical grid expenses that don’t apply to them.

Opposition to Amendment 1

Though Amendment 1 proponents believe its purpose is clear, there are many opponents — including environmental groups, Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans — who state that it is intentionally difficult to understand. Those in opposition also claim that Amendment 1 is a dishonest ploy by utility companies to require customers with solar panels to pay higher utility costs. A legal brief filed by EarthJustice argued that under the amendment, solar customers could end up paying as high as double for the same power that non-solar customers receive.

One of the primary arguments against Amendment 1 is that utility companies who have been historically anti-solar are pushing it so hard. While Amendment 1 supporters say it will favor the solar industry, opponents rightfully fear it will instead damage the industry and limit consumer energy choices.

Floridians for Solar Choice is a grassroots organization that promotes solar policy and advocates voting against Amendment 1. In 2015, the organization put forth a proposal to give Floridians the freedom to choose solar power providers that were not utility companies. However, Consumers for Smart Solar began promoting Amendment 1 shortly after, and it was ultimately the only proposal that received enough votes for the November ballot. Some people believe Consumers for Smart Solar was intentionally created to confuse voters.

According to Floridians for Solar Choice, Amendment 1 will make it easy for utility companies to penalize solar customers. The organization cautions Floridians to consider why these companies would invest so much money pushing this amendment forward, and it believes Amendment 1 would result in more bureaucracy and fees for consumers.

Get involved

If you live in Florida — especially if you have a solar business there, or have or are interested in owning solar panels — get out and vote on Tuesday, November 8. Make sure your opinion on the solar power industry in Florida is heard.

Jonathan Deesing is a solar power specialist with SolarPowerAuthority.com. He spends his spare time loving dogs, running, and beekeeping.

Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed on this site by persons not affiliated with PV Solar Report reflect the judgment of the author and not necessarily that of PV Solar Report.