Column: Amendment 1 misleads Florida voters into limiting solar power growth
The measure is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
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Let me preface this by saying that I am not interested in telling people how to vote. That being said, we cannot have a free society when voters are misled on the ballot and laws are written by corporations that seek to influence our government and economy to maximize profits at the expense of people’s rights and our natural environment.
As a former writer and managing editor at the University Press, I’m glad that the publication I used to work for is covering the 2016 election. However, I fear that its story listing the four constitutional amendments did not adequately explain Amendment 1 — the ballot measure that deals with access to solar energy in Florida.
The article cites Ballotpedia, an excellent, nonpartisan voting resource, in its explanation of Amendment 2, but not for any of the other amendments. A link to the entry for Amendment 1 can be found here.
The language of the measure includes the “right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use,” a right Floridians already have under state law.
Sun Sentinel Florida politics writer and former University Press staff advisor Dan Sweeney wrote a great Q&A on each amendment.
On the topic of Amendment 1, he said, “There was a different proposed solar energy amendment that would have allowed one building owner to capture solar energy and then sell that energy to other units attached to the property. For example, a landlord could have sold energy to his tenants, or a big box store could have sold energy to smaller stores in the same shopping mall.”
“That would have meant fewer utility customers, and so Amendment 1 was born, backed by the utility companies that stood to lose ratepayers.”
To date, Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light, Tampa Electric Company and Gulf Power Company have raised over $19.3 million in support of the amendment. In total, Consumers for Smart Solar — the political action committee that put the measure on the ballot — has raised over $26 million and spent over $21 million as of Oct. 31, 2016.
Floridians for Solar Choice, the main opponent of Amendment 1, has raised over $2 million and spent just over $1 million. This is all according to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections.
“What makes it so insidious is that they are trying to extend their monopoly for burning fossil fuels to the sun,” said David Guest, managing attorney from Earthjustice — the largest environmental law firm in the country.
Speaking at an event in Miami, former Vice President Al Gore said of the amendment, “The things they claim protect solar are protections you already have. 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.”
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, “Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.”
Since Amendment 1 looks to prohibit this, the cost for consumers will end up increasing — despite the falling cost of solar panel technology and installation. In Nevada, reduced net metering payments from a similar law resulted in a 92 percent reduction in solar panel installations in the first quarter of 2016.
Additionally, Amendment 1 and its supporters promise to protect seniors from fraud. Politifact debunked this claim as false as it does not change, preclude or provide any specific protections that don’t already exist under consumer protection laws.
The amendment states, “State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare.”
While this election is seeing record-high early voting turnout and many Floridians have already voted, I urge all voters to research their ballots so as to avoid accidentally voting for someone or something they oppose. There are a variety of unbiased sources to assist voters such as Ballotpedia, OpenSecrets.org, Vote Smart, Vote411.org and OnTheIssues for that very research.
In a column for the Miami Herald, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Carl Hiassen said, “The solar-power amendment on Florida’s ballot is a slick, oily fraud. Promoted as a way to expand solar energy and protect residents who want it, Amendment 1 would do just the opposite.”
If you trust the power and utility companies to do what’s best for consumers and the environment — vote “yes” on Amendment 1, but if you believe we should be able to make our own energy decisions and have the freedom to use renewable energy the way we see fit — vote “no.”
Austen Erblat is a former managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email email@example.com.