By Ann H. Dubin
Amendment 1 received 51% of the vote on November 8th, falling well short of the 60% required to pass constitutional amendments in the state. The vote, however, has not triggered any substantive changes in the way that solar is generated and distributed. Net-metering laws in the state still prohibit individuals and businesses who generate solar power from selling excess to directly to neighbors; they are required to sell back to the utilities. While Consumers for Smart Solar failed to encode this arrangement into the state constitution via Amendment 1, those net-metering statutes are still on the books.
It is unclear when this status quo might be upended. As I discussed in my previous post, the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition attempted to get a competing amendment on the 2016 ballot that would have opened up third-party solar sales in the state. While they failed to garner enough signatures to put the amendment before voters, they have vowed to try again on the 2018 ballot, and the defeat of Amendment 1 has boosted their morale and optimism. It may seem strange that a constitutional amendment is the preferred method of overturning statute on something like solar energy, but such is politics in Florida. Attempts to get the Republican-led legislature and Governor Scott—who benefited from millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the IOUs—to change the statute via conventional means is a non-starter. If anything, the IOUs may try to use their influence to pressure the legislature and the Public Service Commission to weaken existing net-metering laws and to cripple tax abatements for solar. If they are successful in doing so, then even if Floridians for Solar Choice’s amendment makes the ballot and passes, many of the incentives for residents and businesses to invest in solar may be gone by 2018.
In addition to those possible roadblocks to an open and competitive solar market that the IOUs may set down before a 2018 referendum, solar advocates must contend with the reality that the Clean Power Plan is as good as dead in states like Florida where the governor and attorney general oppose it; Donald Trump’s assumption of power has all but guaranteed that. As a result, the urgency of investments in renewable energy has dissipated. Even if a Democrat wins the governorship in 2018—and that’s a big “if”—the near-inevitable continued dominance of conservatives in Tallahassee means there is little chance of renewable portfolio standards being passed.
So, while pro-solar forces were heartened by Amendment 1’s defeat, the battle is far from over. Preventing the IOUs from enshrining their monopoly in the state constitution was a necessary but insufficient step in expanding solar’s reach in Florida. Now, Floridians for Solar Choice and its allies must turn their attention to fighting the IOUs in the legislature and Public Service Commission, guarding against attempts to decrease net-metering compensation or dilute tax credits for renewables. Moreover, to lay the groundwork for more progress down the road, environmentalists must gear up now to elect pro-clean energy candidates from both parties to the state legislature and Florida’s congressional delegation in 2018. The degree to which the coalition has the political will, organization, and resources to accomplish even some of this agenda remains to be seen.