Florida high court hears arguments on utility-backed solar proposal

The Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 7 on the wording of a utility-backed solar amendment proposed for the November election ballot by Consumers for Smart Solar.

Attorneys representing both Consumers for Smart Solar and like-minded electric utilities and power cooperatives argued in favor of the amendment’s language, which they said would ensure regulation by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) and other related consumer protections for residential buyers of rooftop solar panels.

By contrast lawyers for rival Floridians for Solar Choice, and environmental groups, said the amendment isn’t needed because ample consumer protections already exist for residential solar users. Attorneys on this side also suggested that electric utilities are really trying to confuse solar issues and discourage solar growth by non-utility providers.

This proposal “does nothing” but “create confusion,” said Floridians for Solar Choice attorney Bob Nabors. The voters are “given the false impression that they have to vote for this amendment to get rights they already have,” Nabors said.

“There is no beef in this amendment,” Nabors said.

Consumers for Smart Solar attorney Raoul Cantero III said Amendment 1 would balance the rights of both people who utilize residential solar, and those that elect not to use it. In addition, the amendment would make it clear that Florida residents have the explicit right to employ rooftop solar.

The amendment will not prohibit “net metering” but instead leave such issues to the PSC and the state legislature, Cantero said.

“All of these entities support solar,” said Alvin Davis, speaking on behalf of clients that include investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives. “We want the regulatory authorities to remain in place,” Davis said.

Environmental Justice attorney David Guest said that Florida citizens already have clear rights to use solar energy and adequate consumer protections. “Solar is a widely-popular thing and people want it,” Guest said.

Various Florida Supreme Court justices quizzed attorneys on both sides about whether the amendment is confusing or clear and whether it maintains or changes the status quo.

The executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) Stephen A. Smith said in a statement that the utility-backed petition “is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“The big four monopoly utilities have spent millions of dollars on a campaign of deception to mislead Florida voters and block Solar Choice, and now they are attempting to ingrain this deception into the state’s constitution,” Smith said.

The Smart Solar website depicts the amendment differently. “Amendment 1 helps those who choose solar by allowing state and local governments to pass commonsense consumer protection regulations, designed to prevent fraud, abuse and overcharging. Non-solar customers who use traditional energy are protected by these regulations and we think solar customers should be protected, too,” according to Consumers for Smart Solar.

The case numbers are NOS.: SC15-2150; SC16-12. The March 7 oral arguments were webcast through the Florida Supreme Court website.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.