Tampa Bay Business Journal
“Solar fight flares in Florida over institute report”
By Jim Turner and Brandon Larabee, News Service of Florida
December 18, 2015A conservative free-market think tank contends one of two proposed solar-energy ballot initiatives — the one not backed by Florida utility companies — would shift about $1.1 billion in electric maintenance costs to ratepayers.Also, leaders of the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee say the proposed constitutional change could result in “activist” judges imposing additional pro-solar rules on Floridians.James Taylor, a senior fellow with the institute who authored a policy brief released Wednesday, said the proposed “Floridians for Solar Choice” constitutional amendment could allow “an activist court” to dictate to state lawmakers that they further promote solar power while rejecting free-market conditions.”If we’re going to amend the Florida Constitution in a manner that the legislators cannot pass legislation contradicting it, then we have to make sure that the language is clear and precise,” Taylor said. “And this seems to be — deliberately or not — to have the impact of giving the courts a mandate to go far beyond what even Floridians for Solar Choice say they are trying to accomplish with this amendment.”Taylor based his assertion on the text of the proposed amendment, which declares, “It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.”Backers of the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment were quick to call the institute’s report “bogus,” but didn’t respond to questions regarding Taylor’s claim about potential judicial overreach.Conservatives for Energy Freedom President Debbie Dooley, supporting Floridians for Solar Choice, said in a news release that “the monopolies would rather keep building expensive power plants and spreading misinformation instead of doing what is in the best interest of their consumers.””True conservatives champion the removal of government erected barriers that prohibit free market competition for solar,” Dooley added. “We do not side with monopolies to prevent free market competition and we shine a light on misinformation and inaccurate reports.”In the policy brief rolled out Wednesday, the James Madison Institute contends the proposed amendment — which would allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of solar power to customers on the same or neighboring properties — would shift costs to maintain the traditional utility systems to people who are unable to link to small solar providers.The institute based its figures by estimating that 8 percent of Florida’s residential and commercial market would shift from the state-regulated utility grid to a solar provider within three years.”Existing energy providers are required by regulation to ensure 100 percent capacity in their area, even when a business or residence is partially or completely off the grid,” the report said.Taylor said the figures are “conservative.”A financial impact statement from state economists had earlier noted the amendment would reduce state and local government revenues, but the “magnitude of these decreases cannot be determined because they are dependent on various technological and economic factors that cannot be predicted with certainty.”Many of the arguments in the policy brief titled “Solar Carve Outs in the Sunshine State” mirror objections that utility companies leveled at the Floridians for Solar Choice proposal when the initiative went before the Florida Supreme Court in September.A competing ballot proposal by a group known as “Consumers for Smart Solar,” which is backed by the state’s four largest private utilities, would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.Stan Connally, president of Pensacola-based Gulf Power, sits on the James Madison Institute Board of Directors.Institute leaders said they only looked at the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment because its ballot language has been approved by the Supreme Court.Sal Nuzzo, the institute’s vice president of policy, said the institute intends to conduct a similar review of the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal if the ballot language is approved by the Supreme Court.Backers of both amendments must collect 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1 to get on the November 2016 ballot. As of early Thursday, Floridians for Solar Choice had submitted 262,499 valid signatures. The Consumers for Smart Solar proposal was up to 376,646 valid signatures.Article: http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/blog/morning-edition/2015/12/solar-fight-flares-in-florida-over-institute.html