SOLAR TRICKERY TO FOOL THE VOTERS

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In the Spring, 2016 Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, we find the short article  “Fake Pro-Solar Amendment Could Dupe Voter.”

If you can’t beat them trick them.  That’s the tactic that Florida’s biggest utilities are using in their battle against rooftop solar.  A utility-backed amendment on the 2016 ballot claims to encourage the use of rooftop solar panels, but  if passed solar users could end up paying up to twice as much for their power as other utility customers.  Earthjustice has filed a legal brief with the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the amendment should be tossed out because its language intentionally misleads voters.

Interesting, this seems to be the way large corporations, such as utilities and the oil companies  endeavor to get their way in Florida.    Their assumption is that Florida’s voters are just too stupid to understand what they read and hear.  The oil companies did the same during the last two sessions of the Florida Legislature:  they purported to regulate fracking but in reality the bills would promote it.

The Ocala Star Banner today, Sat. April 2, 2016, ran the following editorial”Scroll

Editorial:Solar choice is no choice at all

It’s uncommon in Florida for two groups to offer competing constitutional amendments covering the same topic, as has happened with solar energy.

Ultimately, only one prevailed. After the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday, voters will have a say — a limited one — in the future of solar energy in the Sunshine State.

We hope, however, as Justice Barbara Pariente suggested in her dissent to the 4-3 vote allowing the measure on the ballot, that they pay close attention because the amendment before them is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma are the only states that force solar consumers to buy their power from an electric utility. An eclectic collection of interests — libertarians, environmentalists, tea party activists and Christian conservatives — united under the umbrella Floridians for Solar Choice to subvert the utilities’ dominance.

The group proposed an amendment that would have permitted solar users to buy power from a nearby property owner, such as a neighboring business. Floridians for Solar Choice failed, however, to gather enough signatures to earn a spot on the ballot.

The utilities — mainly Duke Energy, Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power, Tampa Electric backing an outfit dubbed Consumers for Smart Solar — countered with their own amendment, which the high court approved Thursday.

The amendment purports to do two things.

First, it grants electricity consumers “the right to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.” Second, the amendment will “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.”

That clever language might make  an electric consumer believe his solar-using neighbor is getting a free ride at the expense of those who eschew or who cannot afford such systems.

In her blistering dissent, Justice Pariente demolished the idea that voters are offered a “choice” since because the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment failed to make the cut. She also argued the proposed amendment should be dismissed because Floridians already possess the right to buy or lease solar equipment. Pariente noted the court had in the past struck down other proposed amendments that similarly failed to inform voters of their existing rights.

Pariente further slammed the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment for doing essentially nothing. “The combined effect of constitutionalizing a very narrow, but already existing right, and simultaneously constitutionalizing the government’s powers to regulate when Floridians avail themselves of that right, is the status quo.”

At issue in this debate is whether you, as an individual property or business owner, want to invest in solar equipment, generate a limited amount of power and sell that to your neighbors.

The procedural fumble by Floridians for Solar Choice played a major part in denying voters an opportunity to determine that. But the tricky logic, and smart politics, employed by Consumers for Smart Solar may ensure it never happens, if the amendment passes.

If you support solar energy, or even just greater individual freedom, heed Justice Pariente’s observation of the proposed amendment’s effect: “Clearly, this is an amendment geared to ensure nothing changes with respect to the use of solar energy in Florida — it is not a ‘pro-solar’ amendment,” she wrote. “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware.” Beware indeed.

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