SNL Energy
“Fla. solar ballot initiative effort falters as group considers 2018”
By Dan Testa
December 18, 2015The coalition gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to open up Florida’s rooftop solar market, Floridians for Solar Choice, indicated in a Dec. 17 statement it may not gather enough signatures to place the measure on the 2016 ballot. Adding to the group’s difficulties is a dispute over payment with the firm it hired to gather signatures, which has locked up more than 200,000 signatures that await verification from the state of Florida.The group received approval of the ballot initiative’s language in October from the Florida Supreme Court, which allowed it to continue gathering signatures with the goal of collecting 683,149 valid petition signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to place it on the statewide election ballot in November 2016.But Floridians for Solar Choice said it may not get the necessary number of signatures by the Feb. 1 deadline and is now “exploring options for a 2018 campaign.” The signatures gathered for 2016 would still be valid for the 2018 election cycle, according to the group.Floridians for Solar Choice held a news conference Dec. 18 to emphasize their primary goal remains qualifying for the 2016 ballot. “Floridians for Solar Choice is continuing to attempt to qualify for 2016. We are very aware of the challenge to do that given that the number of days left before the qualifying deadline of February 1,” Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Executive Director Stephen Smith, a board member for the group, said. “We continue to pursue this aggressively.”Smith acknowledged the coalition’s original plan was to get on the 2016 ballot, during a presidential election year, when voter turnout is typically much higher. So-called “off-year” elections, as 2018 will be, typically have smaller voter turnout, resulting in an electorate that can skew more conservative, and could be less supportive of a solar ballot initiative.”That is a real concern that we have. Our preference was a presidential year. The demographics are different in a non-presidential year. And that is part of the evaluation that we will have to do if we pivot in that direction,” Smith said. “We were clearly confident that we would have won in a presidential year. We haven’t gone back and done all the analysis on our end for the ’18 ballot. But what we’re saying is the option is there for us if we choose to pull the trigger on it but we are still internally looking at the pros and cons.”In the news release, the coalition noted that its effort has been “assaulted with an unprecedented amount of money,” by a rival group, Consumers for Smart Solar, gathering signatures for a competing solar ballot initiative.”The monopoly utilities have succeeded in making the qualification for 2016 very difficult, but we are well positioned for 2018,” Floridians for Solar Choice Chairman Tory Perfetti said in a news release. “Whether we qualify this proposal for 2016 or 2018, we will continue to fight for the people of this state so that all of us have more choices when it comes to how we get our energy. We continue to fight and ask our followers, the people of Florida, to keep fighting with us.”Consumers for Smart Solar has received significant funding from Florida’s investor-owned utilities, which oppose the ballot measure being pushed by Floridians for Solar Choice. While the “Smart Solar,” ballot measure would mostly leave the status quo in place regarding Florida’s distributed generation law, the initiative supported by Floridians for Solar Choice would amend the state constitution to allow solar facilities producing up to 2 MW to sell to willing buyers, free from utility interference. Consumers for Smart Solar has gathered 414,985 valid signatures, as of Dec. 18.Florida state officials have verified more than 271,000 signatures collected by Floridians for Solar Choice as of Dec. 17, with another 212,000 signatures awaiting verification that have been collected by PCI Consultants, Inc., a California-based firm hired to gather signatures.Smith and Florida Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director Mike Antheil also expressed confidence the coalition could meet the signature requirement for 2018 and noted opposition to the effort from utilities.But the SaintPetersBlog reported Dec. 17 that a dispute between Floridians for Solar Choice and PCI was also a significant contributing factor to the coalition’s diminishing chances of getting on the 2016 ballot. PCI CEO Angelo Paparella told the SaintPetersBlog his firm is owed several hundred thousand dollars and would sue for lack of payment. Smith acknowledged the payment dispute, asserting that Floridians for Solar Choice had paid for all signatures gathered, but PCI was adding additional, unsubstantiated expenses. Until the dispute can be resolved, Smith said during the news conference, PCI is refusing to release the roughly 212,000 signatures not yet verified by the state of Florida.”We are prepared to go to court to get those released because they are in a breach of contract,” Smith said. “Our preferred option would be to resolve this outside the court system but there is a point at which we will bring them to court to get those released because we feel that we have the facts on our side.”Also heating up the debate, on Dec. 16 conservative think tank The James Madison Institute released a report on the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative estimating that, if adopted, within three years the changes would shift more than $1.1 billion in costs from those installing solar to, “remaining ratepayers, or anyone who continues to get their energy from traditional utilities.”Article: http://www.snl.com/Interactivex/article.aspx?CdId=A-34877359-10281