Complicated solar amendment on the ballot

Posted at 2:56 PM, Nov 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-02 14:56:58-04

4 in your corner is continuing our series of stories on the elections and issues that you'll decide next week. Here we're going in depth on Amendment One. Voters will get to decide on solar energy in Florida, but the issue is more complicated than it sounds.

The people who support Amendment One say it's time to put sunshine in the Sunshine State.

"There's a lot of opportunity for solar in the state of Florida," says Jim Kallinger with Consumers for Smart Solar.

But opponents, a bi-partisan group of people who do support solar energy, say there's something shady about this amendment.

"It actually sets a very dangerous precedent," says Steve Smith with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The amendment itself is short.  It says you "Have the right to own or lease solar equipment" for your home.  A right most agree you already have.

Now here's the controversial part: It also says "State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights," and that "consumers who do not choose to install solar, are not required to subsidize the costs" of "those who do."

The phrase "subsidize the costs" is what scares opponents.

You see, solar customers still need to rely on traditional utility companies for times when the sun is not out and they can't generate their own power.  So some argue, if this amendment passes, utility companies could, in theory, try to charge solar users more than other customers, when they need electricity.

"Then they could basically say, 'you know something, we want to put an added charge on every solar customer to make them pay, quote-unquote, their fare share.'" says Smith.

Not so, says Kallinger.  "They're not a monopoly. They can't do it. They can't set rates. All the things they say the utility companies are going to do, they can't do it."

The former state rep says this is purely a consumer protection amendment, designed to drive away solar power scam artists who have taken advantage of people across the country.  "We see what's happened in Arizona, California, Nevada...we want to make sure that doesn't happen here in the state of Florida," says Kallinger.

"There is no language in this, whatsoever, that provides any new consumer protections," says Smith.

Amendment One is supported by several chambers of commerce across the state.  But its biggest backers are utility companies, which have poured millions into the effort to get it passed.  That only fuels speculation that they stand to gain the most.

The amendment must get at least 60 percent approval to pass.