A long time ago, in a state far away, the idea of public utility companies was born from the idea that electricity was a basic need that the government should provide its citizens. The first public utility in the U.S. was a grist mill in Massachusetts. Since then, utilities, both public and private, grew into massive monopolies. A monopoly, by its nature, despises competition and will do whatever it takes to preserve its share of the market. It’s why anti-trust laws challenged monopolies in the era of robber-barons, and why we have the Public Utilities Commission, which in theory places checks and balances on the utilities.
In North Florida, JEA and FPL are the two existing monopolies, and both are threatened by the idea that consumers should have a choice between generating their own electricity and purchasing it from a behemoth. As a result, the utilities have behaved the way that monopolies always do, looking out for their own best interest and attempting to bolster their bottom lines. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the general public. While they are not necessarily an “evil empire,” they have displayed a shocking ruthlessness and outright deception in order to obtain their goals. They have decided to strike back at the growing solar industry in Florida.
Despite the fact that Florida ranks far ahead of almost the entire country in terms of solar potential, the Sunshine State lags behind the snowy northeast, coming in at a dismal 17 for actual solar production. That’s the way the utilities want to keep it.
The Trojan horse: Amendment 1
The group Consumers for Smart Solar ran a well-executed campaign to deliberately mislead voters and detract from the momentum of rooftop solar in Florida. This group is funded by the utilities, along with oil and gas interests. The Florida Supreme court upheld the language the group is placing on the ballot for voters in November.
In her descent, Justice Barbara Pariente offered harsh words of criticism: “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”
The utilities pushed this through by telling citizens they were signing a pro-solar petition. The campaign they’re running now is “Vote yes on one for the sun.” It was a sneak attack, a Trojan horse in every way.
Justice Pariente went on to say “The biggest problem with the proposed amendment lies not with what the summary says, but rather, with what it does not say.” And here is where that deception becomes crystal clear. “There is already the right to use solar for individual equipment for individual use afforded by the Florida Constitution and existing Florida Statues and regulations. It does not explain that the amendment will elevate the existing rights of the government to regulate solar energy use and establish that regulatory power as a constitutional right in Florida… this ballot initiative is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The language of the amendment and the slick marketing campaign behind it, all funded by utilities, is designed to make voters believe that they are actually voting to help make solar more affordable and accessible to the citizenry of Florida. As an apparent afterthought, this language also appears in the amendment: “consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.” That sounds fair and good until the reality emerges that it is the utilities who get to decide what constitutes a subsidy and what doesn’t. It hands the ability to regulate and stifle solar to the very entities who are actively trying to kill it.
A New Hope: Amendment 4
In the August primary, voter turnout will be much lower than in November, and this presents a real opportunity for activists and concerned citizens to make a tangible difference in the state’s future. The ballot will include Amendment 4, giving significant tax breaks to property owners and businesses. If we can get this amendment passed, it will slow the momentum of the utilities, who are working to stop this initiative. Should the amendment pass, lawmakers will decide what incentives to create, spurring the growth of more renewable energy production in Florida.
So, vote No on 1 in November..
Vote Yes on 4 in August.
Your vote matters to the future of our state.