News-Press

November 08, 2016

 

Voters reject controversial solar Amendment 1

Jeffrey Schweers

http://www.news-press.com/story/news/politics/2016/11/08/solar-amendment-1-ballot-measure-falls-short/93523030/

 

What might be one of the most expensive ballot measures in state history to fail, the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar was unable to convince voters to adopt a constitutional amendment they said would protect the public’s right to put solar panels on their rooftops.

With 8.9 million votes cast by 11 p.m., Amendment 1 garnered less than 51 percent of the vote. It needed 60 percent to pass.

That was “the only benefit we have gotten an easy pass on considering deluge of money thrown at us,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice and director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

The coalition of environmental, religious and Tea Party groups opposed to the amendment claimed victory.

“We are up 9 percent. No way they can come back,” said Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a founding member of the Floridians for Solar Choice.

“I don’t think it’s over until it’s over. I want to give it more time,” said Jim Kallinger, co-chair of Consumers for Smart Solar. Even after the Associated Press called the race against Amendment 1, he didn't want to speak for the organization, saying they would probably release a statement Wednesday.

The tide started to turn a couple of weeks ago when an audiotape of a policy expert at the James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Tallahassee, was leaked calling the campaign “political jiu-jitsu,” said Jennifer Rennicks of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The tape confirmed what opponents have been saying all along. Opponents called it a con job on the public, a wolf in sheep’s clothing financed by the power companies so they could keep control of power in Florida and squash any competition in solar energy.

Amendment 1 would have placed current solar regulations into the constitution and prohibited consumers without solar panels from subsidizing grid maintenance fees for those who have them.

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric Company were among the biggest donors to the $26 million campaign. Other supporters included the Florida Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce, the Florida NAACP

That’s 100 times more than the opponents to the measure spent, Smith said.

“This is one of the biggest victories against this kind of money,” he said. “Floridians want good solar policy. "They don’t want the utilities manipulating the market and holding customers on solar back. People in Florida find that unacceptable.”

Support for the measure further eroded when the state’s firefighters union pulled its endorsement of the measure, Rennicks said.

Even Sen. Bob Graham called it a bad idea.

Jonathan Webber with the Florida Conservation Voters, said the group delivered more than 600,000 pieces of mail to likely voters, reached 10 million voters online, called 1 million voters by phone and texted 100,000 targeted voters to "Vote no on 1.

Additionally, 41 editorials from around the state came out against Amendment 1.

The group failed to get the Florida Supreme Court to take a second look at the ballot language, which opponents said was misleading.

Sarah Bascom, a spokesperson for Consumers for Smart Solar, said a plain reading of the ballot language shows and the courts agree there is nothing misleading and nefarious about Amendment 1.

According to solar advocates, out of 9 million electric customers in Florida, 11,626 have rooftop solar systems.

“Florida voters weren’t fooled by the misleading campaign that the utilities tried to perpetrate," said Tania Galloni, Earthjustice Managing Attorney for Florida. "It’s great to see the little guys win for a change."