Florida Voters Say YES to Solar by Voting NO on Amendment 1

Unless you were vacationing on Mars for the past two years, you probably were aware that November 8, 2016 was Election Day in the U.S. One of the significant issues decided on that day by Florida voters was the defeat of Amendment 1, entitled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.” The folks voting “No” on the amendment actually won, with 49% of the votes, versus the “Yes” voters, with 51%. That’s because it takes a 60% “supermajority” for a state constitutional amendment to become law in Florida. The issue was not decided without drama. The proposal was backed by a Super PAC called Consumers for Smart Solar, who positioned it as focused on expanding solar access in the Sunshine State. But opponents argued that it actually would have affirmed in the state constitution a right Florida consumers already have, to own and lease solar. They say the wording would also have preserved the monopoly on power distribution held by the state’s utility companies by blocking third-party competition and any policy that would create a cost shift between customers who own solar and those who do not. Opposing organization Floridians for Solar Choice say the real danger would have been the precedent set by taking distributed-energy issues out of the regulatory process where proposals are subject to expert scrutiny, and instead enshrining them in the state constitution, where it would be almost impossible to change them as new technologies or distribution models are developed over time. As late as September, Amendment 1 seemed destined for easy approval, with Consumers for Smart Solar at a 10 to 1 advantage over Floridians for Solar Choice, with donations of $21.5 million. But in October, a leaked audio tape of Sal Nuzzo, VP of the James Madison Institute, speaking to the State Energy/Environment Leadership Summit hit social media. In the speech on the tape, Nuzzo indicated that the measure was worded to appeal to pro-solar voters while its purpose was to “completely negate anything they would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.” He called getting the amendment on the ballot a “savvy maneuver,” and “political jiu-jitsu.” Although Consumers for Smart Solar immediately tried to distance themselves from the James Madison Institute by removing references to it from its website and social media, the damage was done. SolarCity owner Elon Musk tweeted to his 5.8 million followers that Amendment 1 was a “calculated attempt to deceive Florida voters.” On November 8th, Florida voters agreed, and said, “No, thanks” to Amendment 1.

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