Big power's Smart Solar initiative 'on track' for 2016

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
December 21, 2015 6:54 pm

UPDATED (12/29) | Consumers for Smart Solar and a solar amendment drive that is the brainstorm of big Florida utilities is closer than ever to gaining a spot on the 2016 ballot. “Suffice it to say, we are on track,” Smart Solar spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.

Smart Solar had 519,583 signatures Tuesday, according to the state Division of Elections. The utility-funded petition was spawned in July to oppose Floridians for Solar Choice, which favors direct competition with electric companies. But Solar Choice is less than halfway home with 273,280 verified signatures and is now involved in a federal lawsuit against a petition-gathering firm.

The initiatives need 684,149 verified signatures by Feb. 1 for a spot on ballot.

“We are on track to collect the necessary petitions to make the ballot,” Bascom said in an email.

Smart Solar is under review by the Florida Supreme Court and legal briefs are expected by Jan. 11.

Solar Choice leaders announced a “strategic pivot” Dec. 18 in a yearlong amendment drive involving more than 65 politically diverse interest groups and a statewide network of volunteers. According to Solar Choice, 2018 might be a better target — and it might also be too late.

“If [Smart Solar] does get on the ballot — if there’s even a possibility that it would do that — I think it would likely not pass,” said Stephen Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a Solar Choice founder.

Smart Solar’s initiative stresses existing consumer rights and allows Floridians with solar equipment to generate power for their own use. Solar Choice’s proposal allows entrepreneurs to install and generate up to 2 megawatts of solar and also sell electricity to neighboring homeowners and businesses. Only utilities can sell power under current Florida law.

“The petition count on the Division of Elections website is an understatement of the amount of [unverified] petitions currently at local Supervisors of Elections offices that are being processed,” Bascom said.

Smart Solar’s initiative was sent to the Supreme Court Nov. 24. The court has already approved ballot language for Solar Choice’s initiative.

“We believe they will not get [approval],” Smith said. “We’re not at all confident the utility ballot measure is going to get on the 2016 ballot. We will oppose it vigorously before the [court].”

Solar Choice is involved in a payment dispute with PCI Consulting, a California firm that is reportedly holding up more than 200,000 unverified signatures, according to the News Service of Florida.

“We are not giving up [on 2016],” Smith said.

Power companies have contributed roughly $6 million to Smart Solar, making it the richest political committee in Florida in 2015.

Ballot signatures for Solar Choice and Smart Solar will be valid for 24 months.

Smith said Solar Choice used the past several weeks to discuss strategy with more than 65 coalition organizations and a statewide network of volunteers.

"We know that petitions are good for 24 months and valid for 2018, which gives us lots of options," Smith said. "Despite the [utilities] we are committed to bringing forward good policies that overcome the barriers to solar in the Florida market."


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