Thanks To Conservatives, Florida Is Now One Step Closer To Making Solar Energy More Accessible

CREDIT: Shutterstock

A pro-solar conservative group in Florida cleared a major hurdle this week in its journey to make solar more accessible in the state.

Floridians for Solar Choice reached 72,000 signatures on a petition that seeks to allow Floridians to purchase solar power directly from other consumers — something that isn’t currently allowed in the state. That number of signatures clears the way for the petition to be reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not the petition’s language legally qualifies it to be a ballot initiative for Floridians in 2016. Getting its petition on the 2016 ballot is the main goal for Floridians for Solar Choice.

“We are thrilled to reach this important milestone,” Tory Perfetti, founder of Floridians for Solar Choice, said in a statement. “It shows broad support among Florida’ families and businesses for removing barriers to commerce in solar power.”

The petition for the initiative seeks to “encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.” Under Florida’s current law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers. Florida is one of only five states in the country with a law like that, and solar advocates say that it’s holding the Sunshine State back from its solar potential. If the ballot initiative is successful in 2016, businesses and property owners in the state would be able to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it directly to consumers.

If the state Supreme Court does approve the petition’s language for a ballot initiative, Floridians for Solar Choice will still have some work to do. In order to get on the ballot in Florida, an initiative must collect 683,149 signatures from Floridians in at least seven congressional districts by February 1. Any delays in the Supreme Court’s approval of the petition means there’s less time for Floridians for Solar Choice to collect signatures. Already, supporters have expressed frustration that the state took too long to acknowledge that they had received enough signatures for Supreme Court review.

Perfetti’s group began circulating the petition in January, and he said at the time that he received “overwhelming” response to it. Perfetti and Debbie Dooley, a tea party activist who founded the original chapter of Conservatives for Energy Freedom in Georgia, say that they’re tackling solar in Florida because increasing access to the energy source makes sense from a conservative standpoint.

“Free market and the freedom to choose — those are core conservative principles,” Dooley told ThinkProgress in January. “Unless you cherry-pick your principles, if you’re a true conservative, this is something that resonates with you. I think the residents are fed up with the government telling them who to purchase their power from.”

Floridians from Solar Choice has gained multiple backers of the ballot initiative. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) voiced its support of the initiative earlier this week, and it’s also gained the support of the Tea Party Network, the Christian Coalition, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Florida Retail Federation, the Sierra Club, and other groups.

“This fight is about consumer choice and private property rights — cherished, long-standing American principals that we strongly support as an organization and an industry,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, said in a statement. “We urge Floridians to sign this critically important, freedom-of-choice petition, allowing it to be placed on next year’s ballot.”

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity has attacked the initiative, however, saying that it’s “about money, and using government and taxpayers to prop up the solar industry.” Supporters reject that claim, saying the measure isn’t calling for solar subsidies or mandates; instead, it simply wants to make it easier for Floridians to gain access to solar.