TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – July 27, 2015 – There is the possibility that three constitutional amendments could appear on the 2016 ballot for Florida voters related to the buying, selling and distribution of solar power involving homes and businesses.
There are petition drives underway for two of the solar initiatives, requiring at least 683,000 verified signatures in order to be placed on the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.
The possible third solar amendment would be generated through a legislative bill sponsored by state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, as well as a similar bill sponsored in the Senate. He will file that bill later this year for the 2016 session. He had filed the energy bill last session, and it was rolling through various committees until House Speaker Steve Crisafulli decided the House would not take up any 2016 ballot initiatives during the 2015 session as it became clear the Legislature was heading toward an impasse over Medicaid expansion money.
The biggest difference between the two bills being generated by energy groups and Rodrigues’ bill is the petitions. Rodrigues doesn’t need those. He needs House and Senate approval, and for Gov. Rick Scott to sign off on the bill, and then it can be placed on the ballot.
Collecting necessary signatures and having them verified is a much more difficult task. Should the amendments appear on what will again be a large ballot because of the presidential election year, they would require 60 percent approval by voters to become law.
The amendments have a reasonable chance of passing because of a need to protect the environment by becoming less reliant on traditional fuel sources like oil and gas.
Power by clean energy, especially solar, is gaining strength and popularity in a state where there is an abundance of sunshine. A planned “solar-powered” city is set to break ground soon at Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County. Cape Coral is looking into becoming its own electric utility and wants solar as a power source – at least for streetlights.
But whether it’s power supplied by sunlight or utility companies there is a common link: revenue. Utility companies such as the Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) and Florida Power and Light have monopolies on power in their respective territories. With those monopolies come a long list of regulations that must be followed. LCEC customers can sell excess power back to the utility after LCEC rolled out its buy-back program in 2009. It currently has 191 customers, but only 35 of 174 customers in 2014 generated more power than they could use.
The state does not offer any incentives for people wishing to hook up solar panels.
All three amendments look at who controls the power, who profits from it and who is penalized because of it.
The Rodrigues bill
The bill will provide the same solar protections for businesses that homes have, meaning the county property appraiser can’t raise the value of a property because solar panels have been installed.
“Currently, that prohibition exists for residences but not businesses,” Rodrigues said through email. “So, when a business installs solar, its property value goes up. Since commercial properties do not have Save our Homes protection, this means that their property taxes go up.”
The bill also prevents a county from levying a tangible personal property tax on the business because solar has been determined to be equipment used by the business.
“By preventing a tax increase to a business because they have chosen solar, this will encourage more businesses to choose solar,” Rodrigues said.
Floridians for Solar Choice
Called the Florida Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Initiative, this was the first of the amendments proposed, and proponents of the bill have been aggressive in gathering signatures, especially in front of the Lee County Tax Collectors Office.
The amendment would allow homeowners and businesses to generate up to two megawatts of solar power without government regulation. This puts a business in the market of being able to sell solar. Called distributed generation, any excess power could be sold to other businesses.
“Currently, the retail sale of electricity by anyone other than government-sanctioned utility companies is prohibited,” Rodrigues said. “So while anyone can purchase their own solar panels for their own use, they are not allowed to sell any excess power.”
The current laws may create a monopoly for utilities, but they also are regulated. In return for the monopoly, utilities commit to providing electricity to all properties in a franchise area. The Public Service Commission regulates the rates utilities charge but provides the utilities a guaranteed rate of return.
“Under current law, state and local governments are authorized to charge people a differential on the cost of subsidizing backup power and electric grid access,” Rodrigues said.
If voters pass this amendment, government could not apply new fees on solar users. Also, those using solar power would still be guaranteed reliable electricity by the utility for times when solar power is not being generated.
Consumers for Smart Solar
This is the most recent of the proposed amendments. It allows homeowners and businesses to install solar but remain under state and local regulations, meaning they could not sell the power outside the regulated utility.
Solar users would be exempt from new fees, maintain access to the utility when they need it, but they would not be contributing to the cost of the grid.
Those pushing for this amendment say it is necessary because the solar choice amendment could shift costs to non-solar users by allowing solar companies to sell electricity without paying for the grid that distributed the power. This initiative is being led by former state Reps. Dick Batchelor of Orlando and Jim Kallinger of Winter Park as a counter to what they call the “Shady Solar Amendment (Floridians for Solar Choice). Both say this amendment “allows third parties – such as out-of-state solar companies – to act as de facto public utilities. However, it does not regulate these companies like public utilities.”
Utility monopolies can limit choice, and those who want to explore other energy options should be free to do so, they say. But regulation of utilities provides certain consumer safe guards and guarantees that power is provided.
Copyright © 2015 Fusion Media Limited. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).