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Proposed Solar Amendment Garners Strong Opposition, Support

Lance Cheung

Solar energy is the reason for a lot of boots on the ground this session – or high heels and loafers really, as lawmakers, activist and lobbyists swarm the Capitol to share their views.

Solar panels are concerning because if a person installs them on their roof and their house catches on fire, the panels could release carcinogens – That’s an argument made by the group Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy in a recently releasedreporton solar power. Marita Noon authored the report entitled Solar Power in the U.S. Lessons learned and Guidance for Policymakers.

“It’s not that I’m not pro solar. I am opposed to the government subsidies and mandates that give solar an unfair advantage,” Noon says.

Noon says solar isn’t everything a person might think it is.

“There’s a case listed in the paper from my home state of New Mexico, where the person who has put the solar panel on her home is excited that she has these solar panels on her home and that the payment that she’s making for these solar panels on her home is only a little bit more than her electric bill,” Noon says.

Noon says solar panels aren’t financially beneficial—or not unless government subsidies are involved. She says the woman in the previous example benefited from subsidies.

“My taxes are paying for her to have solar panels on her roof when I can’t afford to have solar panels on my roof. I mean I looked into it," Noon says.

And while Noon says she doesn’t think the government should be picking winners and losers by providing solar subsidies or requiring a certain percentage of a utility’s energy portfolio to contain solar power, Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) is pushing a plan to help low income Floridians install solar panels.

“We see too often electric companies take advantage of low income and middle income families,” Bullard says.

Bullard says he can help to give those families independence and low utility bills by helping them go solar. But Bullard’s bill isn’t moving fast. It’s about the halfway point of session and the measure hasn’t gotten a hearing yet. In fact, most of the solar related legislation filed this session doesn’t appear to be moving. So why are groups like CARE sending representatives like Noon to Florida? Susan Glickman with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says she thinks they’re worried about a proposed constitutional amendment her group is helping to push – although Noon’s paper never directly mentions Florida’s solar initiative.

To make it clear, Noon and Glickman are on opposite sides of the solar argument. Glickman disagrees with almost every argument Noon made. From concerns about government subsidies

“The amendment language does absolutely nothing to pick winners and losers.” Glickman says.

To concerns about the costs a consumer who installs solar might face.

“When you lock into a purchase price or even a lease in a financing way you’re going to end up with 20 years of free electricity. Because we’re seeing pay off periods now that are right around six years for commercial properties,” Glickman says.

Meanwhile, that proposed constitutional amendment is moving forward. It lets businesses and property owners who install solar panels to sell a limited amount solar energy to people on the same or neighboring properties. Glickman says the idea is to increase competition for energy providers.

“Florida is one of only have states that expressly prohibits the sale of electricity. So the Floridians for solar choice ballot initiative would open up the opportunity to sell electricity up to two megawatts. So, a grocery store like a Wal Mart of a Publix could sell to a dry cleaner or another contiguous property such as a restaurant,” Glickman says.

Those in support of the amendment have collected more than enough signatures to get the proposal on the ballot in 2016. It’s awaiting ballot language approval from the Florida Supreme Court.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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