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Florida's Amendment #1


We try to keep this blog as much about finance and as little about politics as possible, but sometimes the two mix. In case you haven’t heard, there is an election coming up, which means that early voting opened this week.  I’m not going to talk to you about voting for the president, or your senator, or any other person on the ballot.  But I do want to mention amendment #1.  I am not going to give you my opinion on it right away, either, but read the facts and decide for yourself if you want to vote for it. 

Amendment #1, otherwise known as the “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” reads as follows: 

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. 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.

Let’s break that down.  The first sentence says that the amendment establishes the right under Florida’s constitution to own or lease solar equipment.  Sounds reasonable, right?  But wait a second, do we not currently have that right?  Can I install solar panels on my roof?  Of course you can!  You already have that right, so why do we need to constitutionally protect it?  I mean, freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and the right to install solar panels, right? 

OK, so how about sentence number 2.  State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare is the first part of the sentence.  I’m not sure how solar power is endangering anyone, and why people not having the constitutional right to install solar panels would threaten the state or local governments ability to protect those rights.  I guess if an improperly installed solar panel fell off a roof, it could hurt someone, but I’m not sure how more government regulation will help that. 

The second part of the sentence says and to ensure 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.  So this amendment wants to make sure that people who install solar systems, and therefore buy less electricity from the power companies, pay for the costs transmitting power that they don’t use?  Huh? 

Once you understand who wrote and subsidized this amendment, this will make a lot more sense. 

Florida’s power companies donated almost $22 million to get this piece of junk on the ballot in November.  Why would a power company want to constitutionally protect your right to install a solar power system?  Well, they don’t.  What they want is to ban companies from installing solar systems to homes or businesses and then making money by selling that excess electricity back to the grid.  Third party sales of this type are not currently allowed in Florida, and this amendment would all but guarantee that never changes.  Without the amendment, this could one day change, essentially opening up the Florida market to 3rd party solar providers who compete directly with the big Utility companies.    And guess who is pursuing that business right now?  If you guessed Tesla, the electric car company, you are correct. 

Telsa recently announced plans to manufacture a new type of roofing system that collects solar power, stores it in giant capacitors inside your walls, and then uses it to power your home.  This sounds like a pretty amazing idea to everyone but the power companies, and so they are doing everything in their power to fight it, especially in states like Florida where this type of plan makes the most sense.