There are many ethical, academic and practical reasons to vote NO on Amendment 1. That’s why several organizations, experts and media outlets (including editorial boards) have covered the misrepresentative language, poor policy and the slick $21-million-dollar campaign funded primarily by investor-owned utilities. (“Back the Eff Away from Amendment 1,” Folio Weekly Oct. 5)
Yet as part of a pro-business, solutions-oriented sustainability nonprofit, I want to focus on four economic and business-related reasons to vote NO on Amendment 1. Voting NO on the amendment, titled Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Amendment 1, will:
- Foster a more competitive market;
- Provide more solar choices for consumers (e.g., community shared solar, roof-top solar, microgrid and small-scale solar and utility-scale solar);
- Encourage additional means for building owners and operators to meet Florida’s new energy code and build resilient buildings; and
- Help individuals and community groups send a strong signal that they want to control their own solar distribution.
Citizens of Florida need to vote NO on 1 and demand a resetting of the table so solar can grow competitively in the state. This will create local jobs, generate future innovation for local and international export, and address deep and dismaying energy inequity in our communities.
Voting NO on 1 will foster a more competitive solar market because currently Florida’s utilities have a monopoly on creating, selling and distributing energy, and they provide this service through a massive infrastructure of excavation, transport, pump, burn, distribute and landfill. They are moving heavily into utility-scale solar due to lower prices — a really good move on their part. Utility-scale solar with its infrastructure already in place is highly efficient. The question for you as a citizen is: Do you want other additional choices such as more rooftop solar and true community solar as well as the choice of other business models such as leasing options and sharing a small scale solar system with your neighbors? Right now, leasing and sharing is illegal in Florida. Allowing other business models to grow and compete in Florida will spur innovation, jobs and keep renewable energy costs down. Voting NO on 1 is a step toward more competition.
Voting NO on 1 will help provide more solar choices to consumers, help protect net metering and the current right that you have to generate your own power, interconnect to the grid, and provide any excess power back to the power company. Amendment 1 threatens to weaken that right. More solar adoption will spur the utilities to change their business model to become more agile and perhaps prompt a turn toward investing in distributed solar power such as leasing PV and battery systems to customers.
Certainly none of us wants the utilities to go away, but we do want them to adjust their business models to become more nimble and continue to supply us with consistent, affordable, reliable, clean and independent energy services. By fostering a competitive market, we will help the utilities turn this adjustment corner quicker versus allowing them to hang onto their old, inefficient models for as long as they can.
Voting NO on 1 will encourage more avenues to meet the new stringent Florida energy code and the unquestioned need for more resilient buildings. Owners and builders need all the tools they can acquire, including onsite renewable energy, to meet Florida’s latest energy code. Florida’s hot, humid climate and anti-solar policies make high-energy performance and efficiency a challenge. Solar products such as rooftop panels and integrated tiles to solar windows in high-rises will go a long way toward stimulating more solar adoption, keeping energy costs down and helping with peak energy demand, as well as providing immediate energy and resilience to the grid after a storm.
Further, voting NO on 1 will send a strong signal that individuals, businesses and groups want more control over their own solar choices. Florida needs more business models in the energy sector. Currently, the model is driven by the concept that more energy sold equals more revenue for investors and stakeholders. There are few incentives to reduce consumption, improve energy efficiency or conserve more, let alone mechanisms to deal with the astonishing energy inequity in the system.
Jacksonville has the highest energy inequity in the U.S. This means that more than 10 percent of those living in poverty in Jacksonville (approximately 50,000 people) pay in excess of $200 a month on their power bills. According to “Why Energy Matters to Working Families,” a report by the nonprofit GroundSwell.org, households that have high energy burdens face increased likelihood of accumulating unsustainable debt and made trade off other essential purchases like food to pay for utilities. The report adds that they are also have a higher chance of getting evicted, even becoming homeless, and experience greater risks to their — and their children’s — personal health, such as by being unable to refrigerate essential medications for chronic diseases like diabetes.
If a different business model, such as community or shared solar was allowed, where one could subscribe to a portion of a local communal solar array, working families could lock in low-cost electricity rates that do not vary by season and lower their unpredictable monthly energy bill significantly. Reducing monthly bills of those living in poverty is a wise, long-term economic decision.
Finally, supporters of Amendment 1 state that their amendment is about rights — the right to have solar, consumer protection rights and “fairness” rights; they say that no one should subsidize solar if they choose not to do so. The real skinny is that Florida citizens already have the right to have solar, already have consumer protections, and those with solar are paying MORE than their fair share of their use of the grid in addition to reducing local pollution and adding resiliency to the grid.
The statement that non-solar consumers subsidize solar consumers has been proven false by over 10 independent studies. The value and benefits of solar have been estimated to be between $0.17-$0.33 cents per kWh, while current retail cost (without including external environmental and human health impacts) of fossil fuel-made energy is $0.13/kWh.
Fundamentally, Amendment 1 is about who you want to control solar in Florida, how much you want solar to grow, and what business models you believe in. If you want the status quo, continued subpar adoption of solar, and for utilities to continue to dominate the control of solar distribution, then vote YES on 1.
If you want more solar in Florida and encourage different, less resource intensive, competitive energy business models, cleaner energy and energy independence, then vote NO on 1. Do you want to move forward and create innovative jobs, technologies and clean energy or tread water (probably literally with sea level rise) by maintaining the status quo? That is the question. Your choice, Florida.
Boren is director of policy and programs with the U.S. Green Building Coalition of Florida. For more information on both sides of the Amendment 1 issue, visit these websites: usgbcflorida.org/Amendment-1, ballotpedia.org and flsolarchoice.org.