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Jax Daily Record Friday, Sep. 9, 201612:00 PM EST

Opponents gear up to fight solar issue

by: Jim Turner The News Service of Florida

Opponents of a solar-energy ballot initiative backed by major utilities rolled out a coalition this week that links environmentalists and the Green Party of Florida with groups of Republicans and Libertarians.

The “Vote No On 1” campaign takes aim at a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that is supported by a group known as Consumers for Smart Solar.

The proposal — tagged as Amendment 1 due to its placement on the ballot — essentially would put into the state Constitution existing rules on the use of solar energy in Florida.

During a conference call with reporters, critics of the proposal said the amendment would limit rooftop energy choices, reduce competition and further expand the “monopoly powers” of the state’s giant utilities.

But Jim Kallinger, a former Republican lawmaker who is co-chairman of Consumers for Smart Solar, said later the claims by the opponents “are simply not true.”

“Amendment 1 neither authorizes nor prohibits third-party leasing (of solar equipment) and does not reduce competition or expand, in their words, a ‘monopoly power’ of the utilities,” Kallinger said.

Libertarians and Republicans who have joined environmentalists in the “Vote No On 1” coalition said they signed on because they see the proposal expanding regulation and not benefiting the free market.

“Amendment 1 was never about increasing choice and energy production for consumers. It’s always been about tightening the chokehold the large power companies have on the people of Florida,” said Alexander Snitker, who represents the Liberty First PAC.

“The large power company monopolies have been relying on a business model that is quickly becoming obsolete. Amendment 1 is a pitiful attempt to prolong their stranglehold on the market,” he said.

Candace Munz, communications director for the Capital Young Republicans, said the state needs to expand its solar-power output.

“I just find it extremely disappointing that Florida is ranked 17th currently in solar power generated,” Munz said. “We all benefit from the use of clean, safe and inexpensive energy and Amendment 1 will be making Florida less competitive.”

Kallinger said the amendment “merely protects the right of Floridians to generate their own solar electricity” while ensuring government continues to have a role that protects consumers against unfair subsidies.

Consumers for Smart Solar raised $18.8 million as of Aug. 26 and had spent $15.8 million, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Among its contributors, Duke Energy put up $5.44 million, Florida Power & Light contributed $4.6 million, Tampa Electric Co. provided $2.56 million and Gulf Power added $1.8 million.

That spending should be a warning flag, opponents of the amendment said.

“Why are the utilities spending close to $20 million on this effort?” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which opposes the measure.

“They would not be spending this kind of money unless they wanted to get something for it, and or, cover something up. The only people the utilities are protecting are their shareholders and their profit,” Smith added.

Other groups opposing the proposal include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Floridians for Solar Choice, the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and the Christian Coalition.

Kallinger noted polls have shown support for the amendment at over 70 percent.

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