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Plant City Observer Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 2 years ago

The one thing we can all agree on this election

Plant City resident Arley Smude shares his opinion on Amendment 1 and its deceptive language.

Along with the many contentious choices on the ballot this election, there is one choice conservatives and liberals, from Libertarians to Al Gore, can agree on: Vote no on solar Amendment 1. I believe this is a truly non-partisan issue, but it’s also an intentionally confusing one, so I’m writing this letter in hopes of making it a bit clearer.

What does Amendment 1, the “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” measure, actually say? It begins with: 

This amendment establishes a right under Florida's constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.

To anyone who’s pro-solar and pro-freedom that sounds pretty good! 

The problem is current law already allows that — this is the sheep’s clothing covering the wolf. As Sal Nuzzo, an architect of the amendment revealed in leaked audio last week, the purpose is to “completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road,” as first reported by the Miami Herald. He went on to brag about using “political jiu-jitsu” to use the popularity of solar to deceive voters. 

If Amendment 1 was actually pro-solar, then why have over 50 solar companies and organizations come out against it? 

Amendment 1 goes on:

State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

That is the tricky part — the utility wolf under the sheep’s clothing. What does it mean exactly? This language creates a pathway to sabotage the policy known as net metering, which allows people who own solar to sell their excess energy back into the grid — or put another way, to create competition for utility companies. 

Tea-Party co-founder and 57 year-old grandmother Debbie Dooley said to Rolling Stone, "Who doesn't want to become an entrepreneur – selling energy generated on their private property to their neighbors, and make a profit off of it? ... Conservatives champion free-market choice, not government monopolies that stifle competition." 

Net metering is practiced in over 40 states and allows third-party solar companies to install solar with zero or little upfront cost to consumers, whereby the solar companies make money when excess energy is sold back into the grid. 

Eliminating net metering could push third-party solar companies out of Florida, along with the thousands of jobs in the industry.

At the end of the day this is more about big money and special interest politics than it is clean energy. Most of the over $21 million raised by Consumers for Smart Solar, the deceptively named group that backs the amendment, came from Florida’s four largest utilities — Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and our own TECO. If our legislature represented us over special interests, perhaps this measure would not be on the ballot. 

Nancy Argenziano, former Florida legislature and chair of the commission that regulates Florida’s power companies said to Rolling Stone, “The legislature is owned by the utilities. To me, it's extremely corrupt. The legislature takes millions from utilities, who make billions from [the decisions of] the [Florida Public Service Commission]. They get what they pay for." 

How many millions did you give to politicians lately? 

Over 20 Florida newspapers, dozens of Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Green Party and Libertarian groups throughout Florida, and even the great Parrothead himself, Jimmy Buffett, have come out against Amendment 1. But with over 10 times the money and deceptive wording, polls show the amendment passing the 60% required to become law. 

That’s why I’m writing this letter. It’s not enough to simply vote no on Amendment 1, but to overcome the money and power in our politics and give solar energy a fair shot in the market, we have to spread the word. 

Take a minute and read about Amendment 1, because unless you own stock in Florida utilities (and disregard the environment and the free market) I’m confident we can all agree to vote no on Amendment 1. 

Thank you,

Arley Smude, Plant City resident

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