Editorials

A sensible, pro-consumer solar power amendment on Florida ballot

Florida Power & Light is building a solar installations adjacent to its natural-gas-fired Manatee power plant. 
 GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald File Photo
Florida Power & Light is building a solar installations adjacent to its natural-gas-fired Manatee power plant. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald File Photo Herald File Photo

While the Florida Supreme Court approved the language for a industry-backed solar-power constitutional amendment, now placed on the November ballot, the justices' 4-3 split indicates a sharp division on whether the ballot's wording is misleading. The title most certainly is: Consumers for Smart Solar.

A competing measure, Floridians for Solar Choice, the brainchild of a coalition of environmental and free-market organizations, truly represented consumers. However, the petition drive ballot failed to collect the required number of signatures by the deadline, but could return in the 2018 election cycle.

A third consumer-friendly, solar-power amendment proposal bubbled up from the Legislature this year, a surprise given the history of lawmaker support for utilities. Yet legislators voted unanimously to ask voters in the Aug. 30 primary to approve a sensible and practical pathway to promoting solar power. The measure repeals personal property taxes for solar equipment and exempts real estate taxes on the devices for two decades.

The amendment proposal's objective is growing the solar market by lowering the initial costs to lease and set up the equipment as well as boost the cost effectiveness gradually and make the shift to clean and sustainable energy more appealing.

Voters should support this sensible start to a bona fide consumer- and business-oriented state solar policy. In fact, this legislative proposal targeted commercial enterprises and enjoys the backing of the business community.

The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment proposal comes from the utility companies, not consumers. It does nothing but enshrine current law into the Constitution, continuing the utilities unjust tight grip on the power market. It does nothing to broaden consumer choice. It does nothing to advance competitive pricing or free market doctrine.

The amendment title, however, proved persuasive enough to deceive plenty of Floridians as petition drives amassed more than a million signatures in less than five months -- thanks to an outsized infusion of money from the utilities. This blatant manipulation worked, and the power industry's servants ballyhoo the "strong support from every demographic."

Be forewarned and forearmed with knowledge and clarity on this ballot measure. Approval is only in the best interests of the utilities.

Floridians for Solar Choice, the brainchild of a coalition of environmental and free-market organizations, truly represented consumers. The effort came after years of failed attempts by solar power proponents to gain traction in the Legislature on opening the market. The proposal granted more people access to solar and alternatives to the utilities for their electricity, a direct threat to the monopoly that power companies now hold.

To be fair, Florida Power & Light, the primary power source for Manatee County, claims to be the world's top producer of renewable energy from the wind and sun. FPL built a massive solar array in this region and plans are in the works for three more large-scale solar power plants. The utility giant holds an impressive record of astute investments, low consumer bills and diligent customer service.

In a November meeting with the Herald Editorial Board, FPL defended utility-scale solar power as the most economic method, costing 50 percent less than rooftop panels. "... it is increasingly difficult to justify the subsidization of small-scale installations simply because they deliver solar energy," FPL maintains.

But the efficiencies of large power plants are not the point. Here's the point: Real consumer choice and an open market justify the tax breaks and other subsidies. The legislative amendment also addresses the public clamor for a state policy that encourages solar installations and allows individuals and businesses to deal with climate change in their own small way. Floridians should drive public policy, not big monopolies.

The legislative amendment warrants voter support come the August primary.

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