Diverse coalition launches solar quest

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
January 13, 2015 8:30 pm

(update 1/15) Like clean water, fresh air and unspoiled landscape, Floridians care about their electric bills. But unlike Amendment 1, a grassroots effort to put solar energy on the 2016 ballot will have a real foe, with huge pockets, and a tendency to hit back.

land5-2.jpgA peculiar alliance of liberals, conservatives, business leaders and environmentalists announced a campaign Wednesday to make solar choice a constitutional amendment in 2016. "This ballot initiative is about freedom of choice and the independence to decide from more than one option how you will power your future,” said Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice.

The coalition will need 683,149 signatures on a petition by Feb. 1, 2016, and receive approval from the state Supreme Court to put the solar question to voters.

“The consumer and business community will benefit in ways that are not possible at present," said Perfetti, also Florida director of Conservatives for Energy Freedom. "We will be taking care of the environment while practicing smart and sensible free market principles.”

The petition was approved by the Division of Elections Dec. 23, a moment that is heralded on a Facebook page for Floridians for Solar Choice. Facebook likes were up 200 percent since the coalition uncorked a social media campaign last week.

Among the early Twitter activity was "Tea Party & environmentalists unite" and a tweet by Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley: "Making the Tea Party — and America — a little greener."

The coalition wants to ease regulatory barriers to give electric customers a reasonable solar option. According to a press release, the ballot measure will allow entrepreneurs and property owners to generate and sell solar-powered electricity from systems up to 2 megawatts. Under state law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers.

But a recent flurry of bipartisan bills are taking aim at energy policies in Tallahassee.

“The Sunshine State is falling behind on solar because the system is broken," said Stephen A. Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Smith estimated the coalition might need to raise $8 million to $10 million to counter pushback from old guard utilities, including FP&L and Duke Energy.

The coalition also includes the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, the Christian Coalition of America, the Libertarian Party of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tampa Bay and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida.

The initiative figures to shadow Amendment 1. Florida’s Water and Land Legacy rallied more than 250 groups, big and small, from the Apalachee Audubon Society to the Women’s History Coalition, according to Ballopedia. The coalition also spent $5.6 million to champion Amendment 1, which encountered virtually no organized resistance.

Medical marijuana got out of the gates quickly, too. For financial support, United for Care relied mostly on individuals.  Attorney John Morgan contributed roughly $4 million to a $7.4 million campaign. Six organizations backed the initiative, including CannaMoms.

It ended badly. Sheldon Adelson, a casino and hotel czar, pumped $5 million into a $6.3 million war chest for Drug Free Florida. The anti-medical pot coalition outspent United for Care down the stretch and held Amendment 2 to 58 percent of the vote, short of the 60 percent threshold for approval.

Photo cut: Tory Perfetti and Stephen A. Smith, right, help raise the flag for Floridians for Solar Choice, a newly formed PAC. (Via Twitter)



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