SOLAR

Solar coalition is confident petition numbers will add up

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
May 18, 2015 9:43 pm

Florida's solar advocates have roughly 120,000 signatures backing a solar energy amendment. That means the initiative that started in January needs to average 70,400 signatures over the next eight months to get on the 2016 ballot. “I’m still very confident [Floridians for Solar Choice] will make the numbers,” said Stephen Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

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Stephen Smith and Tory Perfetti, left, at a news conference in January announcing a solar amendment drive.

Solar Choice, which officially organized Dec. 23, needs 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1. The initiative was sent to the state Supreme Court for review March 25, three-and-a-half months faster than last year’s Amendment 1 drive and only nine weeks slower than the full-court press for legalized medical marijuana.

Smith said Solar Choice mailed out 300,000 petitions, and the state Division of Elections has verified 86,918.

“We know over 120k have been returned,” Smith said in an email. “But there is a significant number still out there so it’s a bit hard to tell of the 300k what percentage have been signed and just not mailed  back.”

The recent amendment season showed different paces for different initiatives. The Water and Land Conservation effort was approved by election officials in September 2012. Advocates used 16 months to gather 709,976 signatures, winning a place on the ballot Jan. 17, 2014. The petition averaged 44,374 signatures a month.

The medical marijuana petition was official July 10, 2013, and raced to the wire, getting Supreme Court and ballot approval Jan. 27, 2014, with 786,368 signatures. That was 120,980 signatures monthly.

Solar Choice announced 100,000 unverified signatures in mid-February and has an estimated 20,000 since.

“We have a strong volunteer effort and will be doing more paid signature gathering in the future,” Smith said.

In a public webinar last week Smith said the initiative came out ahead in a report by a Financial Impact Estimating Conference that is part of the state Supreme Court’s review.

The conference, which weighed input from the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties, said tax collections from utilities will likely be reduced.  Counties and cities might also need to renegotiate franchise fee agreements, possibly at a loss, depending on the growth of small-scale solar power, according to the conference report.

The report said the “timing and magnitude of these decreases cannot be determined.”

“It’s factually correct to assume that as more people put solar on their roofs and generate more of their own power they will be buying less electricity [from utilities],” Smith said. “But [the conference] correctly said it’s not a given that it is going to cause an increase in taxes. … They said it is indeterminate. That’s a favorable ruling from our point of view.”

On Saturday the Florida League of Women Voters threw their support behind Solar Choice during their convention in Delray Beach. That gives Solar Choice 35 endorsements, including a diverse coalition of 10 founders that includes the Southern Alliance.

“This [petition] process is an arduous, difficult process, and there’s very narrow windows of time to hit the numbers and get it done,” Smith said.


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