Smart Solar's petition beats deadline, awaits top court

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
January 22, 2016 6:05 pm

A solar energy amendment funded by Florida utility companies moved a giant step closer Friday to a statewide vote and escalated charges of dirty tactics in the battle for clean energy. “Today we have officially met all of the voter requirements” for a place on November’s ballot, said Dick Batchelor of Consumers for Smart Solar.

Smart Solar has 695,376 verified signatures by registered voters who support the initiative, easily surpassing the state’s required threshold of 683,149, according to the Division of Elections. The deadline was Feb. 1.

solarpetitionpalmharbor.jpg» DECEMBER: "The monopoly utilities have succeeded in making the qualification for 2016 very difficult."

Florida’s Supreme Court must approve the language in the initiative before voters get their say in November.

“We are confident [the court] will agree that our amendment is clear and straightforward, and deals with only one subject – giving Floridians the opportunity to advance solar and protect consumers,” Batchelor said in a statement.

Smart Solar’s proposal was conceived in July in opposition to a solar policy initiative by Floridians for Solar Choice, which has 278,308 signatures.

Solar Choice leaders announced a “strategic pivot” Dec. 18 in a yearlong amendment drive. 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 [in November],” said Stephen Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a Solar Choice founder.

Solar Choice also is accusing Smart Solar of foul play. In an email, a Solar Choice spokeswoman said there are "multiple instances around the state where paid [signature] gatherers misrepresented which solar ballot campaign they were collecting signatures for, further confusing voters about which initiative to support."

Smart Solar’s initiative stresses existing consumer rights and allows Floridians with solar equipment to generate power for their own use.

Solar Choice 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 and that doesn't change with Smart Solar's proposal.

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

“We believe they will not get [approval],” Smith said in December. “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 filed legal arguments with the Supreme Court Jan. 11 to challenge Smart Solar.

"It is a cynical proposal designed to confuse voters," said Bill Garner, an attorney representing Solar Choice. "Its ballot language falsely tells voters that the amendment gives people the right to make a solar energy choice, when in fact it gives them nothing more than what they already have under the Florida Constitution's basic rights and under general law — the ability to own or lease the solar equipment they use to make electricity at their homes and businesses."

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.


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