Is Capitalism Set To Carve Up Florida’s Highly Subsidized Solar Industry?

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Florida’s heavily subsidized solar power industry is facing a possible existential crisis after a proposal was approved by the state’s supreme court that would, if passed, dramatically curb the subsidies Florida doles out to people leasing solar panels.

Free market advocates, as well as energy insiders, believe the solar power industry won’t be corrected until the government is kicked out of the industry entirely. Subsidies and other exotic governmental instruments, they say, must go by the wayside if solar energy companies want to compete fairly.

“We’ve been consistent in wanting to get rid of solar subsidy tax credits,” Andres Malave, the communications director for the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told The Daily Caller News Foundation about his group’s campaigns against subsidized solar panels.

Malave added: “We want all forms of energy to succeed in Florida. If someone wants to purchase a solar panel on their property, they can, so long as there are no governmental variables involved drastically forcing their neighbors to pay more for energy.”

AFP, a non-profit political advocacy group, has been out front and center on the solar subsidy issue, arguing against ideas that would continue giving the solar industry tax credits.

Solar panels are a great idea, Malave said. “They just have to be able to work on the market without subsidies.”

The so-called Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice initiative essentially allows Floridians to vote on a ballot initiative that would protect people without solar panels from being made to pay the extra cost subsidies impose on the electrical grid.

It was approved by the Florida’s supreme court in March and gives people the right to own a solar panel, the court stated, but that right “would be limited to the extent that State and local governments find necessary to protect consumer rights,” adding the right is hemmed in by “the exercise of the constitutional right from infringing upon the rights of others, specifically, in the form of a subsidy.”

The subsidies, therefore, harm and violate the rights of the non-solar panel owners, because they force energy prices higher than they would be were the subsidy not instituted. It is in the state’s best interest, the court said, to allow Floridians to vote on a measure that would protect the rights of those without the panels.

The proposal, as well as a competing initiative brought by a group backed by environmentalists and various conservative-leaning groups, kicked up all kinds of dirt over the past year among groups claiming to espouse free market capitalistic ideals, as well as a need to adapt to solar energy.

Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), a group supported by the Sierra Club and Conservatives for Energy Freedom, began the fight with a proposal allowing Floridians to purchase their own solar panels and transfer the excess energy to their non-solar panel-owning neighbors.

The other group, Customers for Smart Solar (CSS), argue its amendment ensures residents who don’t produce solar energy are not held responsible for paying the extra costs solar imposes on the electric grid.

The two rivals needed 100,000 signatures to ensure the Supreme Court could look at the proposal and allow it to appear on the ballot. As it turns out, FSC came up short of the February deadline, while CSS’ proposal cut muster.

The FSC’s plan still heavily subsidizes the industry, energy insiders say, by not addressing the existing 30 percent federal tax credit for home solar panels.

Florida currently bans the outright purchase of solar panels — instead, customers must lease the panels from utility companies and sell any excess energy back to the utilities at higher than market rates, causing energy prices to pitch upward for utility customers without solar panels.

These tax credits are “kind of like having the government pay for 30 percent of your brand new car,” Dan Kish, the senior vice president at the free market-based Institute for Energy Research, told TheDCNF.

“Imagine a poor, single mother in Florida trying to keep warm her home or rental property, and now imagine these mostly wealthy solar panel customers forcing public utility companies to buy up electricity at jacked up prices,” Kish added. “Forcing these companies to pay more than market rates for electricity makes the rates of that single mother skyrocket.”

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