Florida’s right to solar initiative goes to state supreme court

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Utilities are not the most popular companies these days. Over the years of fighting tooth and nail to stop distributed solar, utilities across the United States have increasingly incited public indignation by their sometimes brazen attempts to control the supply and sources of electricity – which in some places has included subversion of the Democratic process.

This includes Florida, where a new initiative to break up the state’s monopoly utilities and enshrine residents’ right to generate their own power is on its way to the state’s Supreme Court, its first stop on its way to the ballot.

Citizens for Energy Choices (CEC) has gathered over 79,000 signatures for the effort to get a constitutional amendment in Florida to provide residents “the right to choose their own electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity”.

But this is far from all that the organization seeks to accomplish. In fact, the petition calls for the the abolition of the monopoly enjoyed by the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs), for the opening of retail electricity to competition and/or public ownership, and for IOUs to be limited to “construction, operation, and repair of electrical transmission and distribution systems”.

“Currently the access to the market of generating your own electricity is controlled by the monopoly utilities,” stated Alex Patton, chair of Citizens for Energy Choices. “We are trying to allow anybody to generate their own power and sell their own power.”

 

“Unleashing” solar

The call to give residents the right to generate their own power is particularly relevant in Florida, where state law designates anyone who sells electricity to end-users as a “public utility”, essentially making power purchase agreements (PPAs) de facto illegal.

For years this and the lack of legal clarity around lease products prevented third-party solar companies from offering their financial products in the state, until Sunrun got a ruling from Florida regulators that the company’s lease products are not a retail sale of electricity.

This was followed by Vivint securing a similar ruling in August. But while this opened up the residential market, it came after a series of difficult political battles. This included the fight over Amendment 1, the utility-backed measure which a consultant described as “political jiu-jitsu” designed to trick voters into allowing utilities to legally block solar.

As such, an increasing number of Floridians appears to be seeking to legally enshrine their rights, and there is currently a bill in the State Senate to ensure that property owners have the right to generate electricity and produce or sell it to users on their property.

The Florida Energy Choice petition is the latest of such efforts and CEC’s Patton says that if successful the effort will “unleash alternative energy in Florida.” This includes explicitly authorizing third-party solar.

 

A long road ahead

CEC notes that it reached the necessary number of signatures two months earlier than its goal, which Patton says is due to the positive reception that the initiative is getting from Florida voters.

And while over 76,000 signatures in less than fourth months is impressive, it is only the beginning. Reaching this threshold has allowed the effort to go to the state for a judicial and financial impact review, but in order to make the ballot CEC will need to get 766,200 signatures, or nearly 10x that volume.

And if it does succeed, the fight will still not be over, as the petition calls on the state legislature “to adopt and complete comprehensive legislation” to achieve many of its ends.

It remains to be seen if this effort can clear all of these hurtles. But what is clear is that Floridians are increasingly deciding that they are no longer willing to allow utilities to control their energy future.