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Don't be fooled on Florida solar energy petition drives: One friendly to consumers; other to utilities

Floridians would be well advised to learn to stark differences in the two diametrically opposed petitions seeking constitutional amendments on solar energy. One would eliminate the ban on property owners who want to sell electricity generated by solar panels to neighboring homes and businesses. The other merely seeks to maintain the status quo, restricting property owners to only one option -- selling excess energy to utilities at retail prices.

Confusion arises when the people paid to gather petition signatures misrepresent the utility-supported initiative as a consumer-friendly measure. Don't be fooled.

The power companies are behind this deceptive petition title: Consumers for Smart Solar. It is anything but smart and has nothing to do with consumers. It gives utilities the same monopoly power over solar energy they now enjoy.

Floridians for Solar Choice opens the energy market to homeowners and businesses by removing a ban on selling excess solar electricity to contiguous properties. It also blocks utility companies from charging solar-generating property owners more for backup power and grid connections.

Fueled by big money from the utilities, the "Smart Solar" campaign pays signature staff better than the citizen-driven "Solar Choice" petitioners. A Sunday report by the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau exposed this dishonest practice with one Floridian exclaiming she was "duped" into signing the utility-backed initiative when told the constitutional amendment would pave the way for people to switch to solar power. The signature gatherer, she relayed, basically lied when describing the petition as a "revised, updated version" of the Solar Choice initiative.

Smart Solar organizers deny any intent to mislead voters, but the initiative title alone suggests otherwise.

Voters should be smart indeed and read the petition's language to ensure they are signing the initiative they want on the 2016 ballot, should either one collect 683,149 signatures and win 60 percent of the November election. The initiatives must also win state Supreme Court approval of the ballot language but only the consumer-friendly Solar Choice has accomplished that, winning that decision last week.

As we've opined in the past, Florida continues to lag behind other states in the development of solar energy. The Sunshine State ranks a lowly 15th in the development of this clean power source. Solar Choice is a common-sense, free-market proposal that simply asks voters to change state policy and promote small-scale, local solar energy by eliminating barriers, chiefly the one banning neighbor-to-neighbor sales of excess power. Those sales would be capped at two megawatts.

With the price of solar panels dropping substantially -- by 60 percent -- cost recovery for property owners will accelerate. The freedom to sell to neighbors would help, too.

The surprising element to this is a broad-based coalition of political opponents has united behind this petition drive. Republicans, Democrats, tea party activists, libertarians, businesses, Christian Coalition conservatives, liberal environmentalists and others joined hands under Floridians for Solar Choice.

On a very positive development, Florida Power & Light plans to triple its current solar capacity by adding 225 megawatts of new power generated by building three additional arrays around the state, with one near Parrish. FPL currently operates a Next Generation Solar Energy Center near Arcadia. This new one nearby, with work already starting, will triple the energy output of the Arcadia array.

Florida should be promoting solar energy. Renewable energy is the wave of the future. Should a petition addressing constitutional amendments come your way, be sure which one is which. We recommend a signature on Floridians for Solar Choice. We deserve a vote on this "smart" public policy.

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