For months, solar energy advocates have been fighting to get a question on the 2016 ballot that would, if 60 percent of voters approve, turn into a Florida constitutional amendment that wrests control over the solar industry from power companies.
Believe it or not, somebody doesn't like the idea.
On Wednesday, the James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank, denounced the proposal as an unfair "carve-out" for one particular industry — solar, obviously — that would cost consumers $1 million while defiling the state constitution.
The group put out a study Wednesday morning that analyzed the amendment's ballot language as well as its potential financial impact. (Read it here.)
The big takeaway, according to the group?
That, after three years of the law's implementation, if solar takes up a "modest" eight percent of the Florida energy market, it would cost $740 million for households and $381 million for commercial outfits. That's a total of $1.121 billion.
They reason that the higher cost would come from wear and tear to the power grid, which power companies would have to pay for (then, probably, passing on said costs to consumers).
“The language of the proposed amendment forbids Florida energy officials from having on-site solar providers or purchasers pay a proportionate fee for grid maintenance and capacity costs,” said policy brief author James Taylor, a senior fellow with JMI and the Heartland Institute, in a media release. “This amounts to an additional subsidy, whereby all electricity consumers who do not generate or purchase on-site solar must pay the costs for those who do.”
Solar advocates argue, meanwhile, that there would also be less strain on the grid, given that solar power would not have to travel through the grid anyway.
The group went as far to say the amendment would diminish the value of the state constitution because of the boost it intends to give to a single industry.
“The Florida Constitution would no longer be a sacred document that protects our freedoms and sets the ground rules for our representative government. It would instead become a trough for pork-barrel favoritism and consumer restrictions that would become the coveted prize of crony capitalism,” McClure said. “To the extent that any energy industry, solar, wind, coal, natural gas, seeks to gain a greater share of Florida’s electricity market, their proper course of action should be to first produce a more economical product.”
But advocates of the amendment, which free-market Tea Party types and environmentalists alike support, say the report is bunk and was compiled to support the interests of utility companies like Duke Energy and FP&L, whose voluminous bottom lines (and monopolies in the areas they operate) would be diminished some were the amendment to pass.
"How is it that the James Madison Institute — which professes to support economic freedom, limited government and personal liberty — opposes competition and props up monopoly utilities?" Debbie Dooley, a Tea Party activist who helped launch Solar Choice, said in a written statement. "True conservatives value free market and competition."
Dooley pointed out a common friend the James Madison Institute and major utilities share: Jeb Bush. Namely, she notes how FP&L gave $1 million to Bush's superPAC, and how Bush is a strong ally of institute officials.
Also, she said, the amendment would give Florida consumers more autonomy when it comes to powering their homes, something they really don't have now due to monolithic utility companies operating in each metro area. So calling something that would create competition among energy providers a "corporate giveaway" is kind of a stretch.
"The Solar Choice amendment has no subsidies, carve-outs, fees or taxes," Dooley said. "It will simply allow solar companies to enter into agreements to sell solar power to homes and businesses. Solar prices have dropped 61% in the last six years and the Floridians for Solar Choice initiative will harness those price reductions and protect consumers from rising energy prices. Solar Choice will create high-paying local jobs in local communities and keep energy dollars here at home instead of sending tens of billions dollars each year out of state for fuel."