Former Vice President Al Gore was in Miami Tuesday on political business, including his signature issue, climate change. The stump included a sharp dig at Amendment 1, labeling the utility-funded solar power initiative “baloney.” But Gore, a multimillionaire and founder of the Climate Reality Project, never contributed “a cent” to support grassroots solar advocates in Florida.
For Gore and a diverse political coalition of solar advocates and volunteers for Floridians for Solar Choice, that’s an inconvenient truth ahead of Nov. 8’s elections.
“[Solar Choice] is the PAC and has not received any money from Gore,” said Stephen Smith, a founder of Solar Choice and director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Not a cent.”
Solar Choice, which organized a ballot initiative in January 2015, withdrew in December after raising roughly $2 million, mostly from SACE. At the time, Consumers for Smart Solar, sponsor of Amendment 1, were reportedly raising payments to signature gatherers with a utility-funded war chest to keep Solar Choice on the sidelines.
"[Utility companies] are trying to cloud the truth by putting forward a phony-baloney initiative that sounds like it protects solar," Gore said at Miami Dade College. "It doesn't protect solar."
In Florida, neither has Gore despite outreach by Solar Choice to enlist financial support. In a telephone interview, Smith said Gore and his Climate Reality Project have provided social media support that “helped to amplify our message.”
Among roughly $21 million raised by Smart Solar, more than three-quarters came from utilities, including $5.7 million from Duke Energy, $5.5 million from Florida Power & Light, and $3 million from Tampa Electric, according to The News Service of Florida.
Financial backers for SACE are shielded under law from public record. Amendment 1 supporters say SACE is backed by out-of-state solar companies.
“We welcomed [Gore's] comments,” in Miami, Smith said. “We consider them a partner.”
Gore said “Massachusetts installed more solar energy last year alone than Florida has installed in its entire history.”
“Our democracy has been hacked," Gore said. Utility companies, he said, have spent "more than $20 million to pull the wool over your eyes — and $20 million may buy a lot of wool."
A September poll by Saint Leo University indicated 84 percent of likely voters support Amendment 1. Frank Orlando, the director of the poll, said in a statement that Florida voters appear to have a “lack of knowledge about what the amendment would do.”
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