Energy

Florida Votes On Pro-Solar, Anti-Subsidy Constitutional Amendment

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Florida residents will vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to produce solar power while limiting the amount of subsidies paid to people for doing so.

Supporters say the proposal, called Amendment 1, would limit the dubious business practices of rooftop solar companies by allowing individuals to own panels into the state constitution, and prevent individuals who don’t own solar panels from being forced to subsidize those who do. The proposal has been backed by utilities.

Opponents say that the measure would ultimately reduce the value of net-metering solar subsidies and would prevent the growth of solar power.

A new poll published last week by Saint Leo University found that about 59 percent of voters support the proposed amendment, down from 84 percent last month and 81 percent in August. The measure would have to win 60 percent of the vote to be enacted due to a provision in the state constitution.

Several Florida media outlets have opposed the measure including the Tampa Bay Times, The Miami Herald, and the Orlando Sentinel. Amendment 1 was previously in an epic duel with another pro-solar ballot measure, which much of the media supported. However, the other measure failed to get on the ballot.

The state’s Supreme Court voted 6-1 late last week to reject lawsuits filed by Florida’s solar industry and environmental groups to keep the measure off the ballot.

“Florida deserves a holistic approach to solar,” Jim Kallinger,  former state representative and co-chair of the group which supported Amendment 1, told The Orlando Sentinel. “Thankfully, Amendment 1 will provide a constitutional framework for solar in the Sunshine State, which will keep politicians and special-interest groups from tampering with it. Let’s safeguard consumer rights, consumer protections and consumer fairness by voting ‘Yes on 1 for the Sun’ this November”

Kallinger and other supporters claim that providing an explicit constitutional right to solar energy production while ensuring consumers are treated fairly by limiting subsidies will ultimately encourage solar power growth.

“The things they claim protect solar are protections you already have,” Al Gore, the former vice president of the U.S. and a noted environmental activists, told The Miami Herald. “But they are trying to fool you into amending your state Constitution in a way that gives them the authority to shut down net metering and do in Florida what they did in Nevada and just kill the solar industry.”

Gore and other opponents claims that preventing people from subsidizing rooftop solar power could be used to limit solar energy production and strengthen the power of utility companies. Politifact rated Gore’s statement “half-true.”

Rooftop solar is already heavily subsidized by an already existing 30 percent federal tax credit for home solar panels. Solar and wind power have been heavily subsidized since at least the 1970s. Solar and wind power get 326 and 69 times more in subsidies than coal, oil, and natural gas per amount of energy generated, according to  2013 Department of Energy data collected by Forbes.

Wind power alone received $5 billion in subsidies in 2010 while and solar received $1.13 million — oil and natural gas only got $654 million in subsidies during those years. Last year, wind and solar power only accounted for 4.7 and 0.6 percent of all electricity generated in America respectively, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration.

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