Opponents of rooftop solar caught on tape praising deceptive measures to pass Florida initiative

Audio from a conservative conference confirms that Florida’s Amendment 1 is trying to mislead voters.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon
CREDIT: AP Photo/Reed Saxon

For more than a year, solar advocates have said that Florida’s Amendment 1, going before voters in November, is intentionally misleading.

Turns out, they were right.

Audio released Wednesday revealed that backers of Amendment 1, which is sponsored by state utilities, are counting on the fact that solar is widely supported to pass a measure that will actually hurt solar in the state.

“The point I would make, maybe the takeaway, is as you guys look at policy in your state or constitutional ballot initiatives in your state, remember this: Solar polls very well,” James Madison Institute vice president Sal Nuzzo told a crowd of conservative state policy wonks in an October address uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute.

“Solar polls very well… use the language of promoting solar.”

“To the degree that we can use a little bit of political jiu-jitsu,” he continued, “and take what they’re kind of pinning us on and use it to our benefit either in policy, in legislation, or in constitutional referendums — if that’s the direction you want to take, use the language of promoting solar, and kind of, kind of put in these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop.”

Florida solar advocates were quick to hit back on the comments, calling the remarks “deceptive,” “ arrogant,” and “disgusting.”

“From the very beginning I have called out Amendment 1 as being deceptive,” Debbie Dooley, a board member of the Tea Party Patriots and head of the Green Tea Coalition, said on a call Wednesday. “This audio tape shows that we were right.”

At the heart of the debate is the language used in Amendment 1 — especially compared to its title, “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.” Opponents of the measure say that it isn’t really about protecting rights or choice, it is about stifling solar development. They even sued to stop the measure, but the state supreme court ruled that it could go to voters as is.

Much of the amendment simply reiterates law already in place in Florida, but one key clause would prohibit third-party solar leasing. Under the amendment, it would only be legal for solar owners to use the energy they produce, not to sell it. But under solar leasing, a solar company owns the panels, and then sells the electricity back to the homeowner or contract holder.

The amendment is so convoluted that a Florida Supreme Court judge warned voters in her dissenting ruling. “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware. Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo,” Justice Barbara J. Pariente wrote.

“Amendment 1 is the con job that we have said it was.”

Pro-solar initiatives tend to do well in Florida, which is apparently what the measure’s authors are counting on.

Florida voters — and voters across the country, from both sides of the aisle — support solar. Last year, Sunshine State voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to exempt solar equipment from property taxes on businesses (it was already exempted for homeowners), a move that was expected to boost commercial solar and, yes, third-party leasing.

Underscoring the confusion voters are facing, a poll released in September found that 66 percent of voters — the same voters who wanted solar last year — now approve of Amendment 1.

Proponents of Amendment 1 have spent nearly $20 million on a deluge of television, radio, and print ads urging Floridians to vote yes.

Some advocates Wednesday said they hoped the new audio will help voters understand what is really at stake for the state.

“Perhaps what has just happened — as amazing and disgusting as it is — the confusion can be cleared and the air can be cleared for many voters who have been confused,” said Pamela Goodman from the League of Women Voters Florida. “Amendment 1 is the con job that we have said it was.”

In the meantime, solar advocates seemed almost surprised that Nuzzi could speak so directly about what they see as a massive fraud against Florida voters.

“We are extraordinarily enraged by what we have learned in the past 24 hours,” said Stephen Smith, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “I have never seen anything like this in the history of the state.”