As we've been reporting for months now, a group of solar energy advocates has had a spot of bother lately.
Floridians for Solar Choice (which we once told you to associate with a Rush song as a way to differentiate it) wants to help citizens and business owners use rooftop panels to generate their own solar power (up to two megawatts), which they can then sell to a neighbor or tenant. The group is struggling to get enough petition signatures to get such a policy on the statewide ballot in 2016.
Utility companies do not like this idea, and have launched a parallel effort that does little beyond confusing those signing and gathering said petitions. That effort is called Consumers for Smart Solar (which, remember, puts "solar" last).
Backers of Solar Choice (the ones who put "solar" first) say that the opposition juggernaut has so stymied what should have been an easy petition-gathering effort that they're now looking instead toward getting the amendment onto the 2018 ballot — not ideal, since (judging by turnout) Democrats and progressives aren't aware that elections occur more than once every four years.
"Floridians for Solar Choice is continuing to attempt to qualify for 2016. We are very aware of the challenge to do that given the number of days left to do that before the qualifying deadline of February 1," said Steven Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a board member of the PAC that's running the Choice effort, in a conference call. “We continue to pursue this aggressively with a tremendous group of volunteer organizations that are working with us on this.”
That said, though, solar backers are "beginning to take a hard look at 2018.”
"The most important thing to remember is, on February 1, if for some reason we do not qualify for ’16, these ballots do not just vaporize.”
Both efforts need over 683,000 signatures by Feb. 1 to get on the 2016 ballot. Each has nearly two-thirds of that. Solar Choice has collected about 400,000 signatures, about 271,000 of which have been verified.
The other, unverified signatures are in limbo, because the petition-gathering firm Solar Choice was using, L.A.-based PCI Consulting, is hanging on to them over an alleged contract dispute; the firm claims Solar Choice owes over $200,000, something Smith flatly denies.
“We are prepared to go to court to get them released,” Smith said.
Smart Solar, the opposition group, has launched a beyond-formidable effort; it has raised $6 million on petition-gathering and PR efforts to fight Solar Choice. They are paying petition-gatherers more than twice the per-petition fee than their opponents (using the same firm, as far as we could tell through talking with petition-gatherers).
Smart Solar has strong backing from utility companies and conservative groups bankrolled by the industry, which over the summer transformed the solar debate into a quintessential David vs. Goliath battle.
“Everyone also knows that we have, since the summer, had an extraordinary campaign run against us, largely funded by the monopoly investor-owned utilities in the state of Florida, where they have spent close to $6 million in an effort to stop the citizens of Florida from being able to vote on this measure,” Smith said. “They continue to aggressively try to trip up what we're doing so that citizens don't have a vote on this...To me, it is a reflection of how amazingly potent the ballot initiative is and how concerned they are with the ability to positively impact the market.”
Smith said even if Solar Choice doesn't have enough signatures to get on the 2016 ballot — and Smart Solar does — he thinks the opposition's effort won't pass Florida Supreme Court muster, as every amendment must (and as Solar Choice did).
“We're not at all confident that the utility ballot measure is going to get on the 2016 ballot," he said. "Remember, they designed the laguage of their ballot primarily for maximum confusion and not for actually getting through the rigors of the Supreme Court. We will oppose it vigorously because we do not believe it's single subject and we know for a fact it's ambiguous.”