Florida Conservative Group Launches A Ballot Initiative To Increase Access To Solar Power


A conservative group in Florida wants Floridians to be able to purchase solar power directly from other consumers, and it’s hoping a 2016 ballot initiative can make that happen.

Conservatives for Energy Freedom, launched in Florida last October by tea party activist and solar advocate Debbie Dooley, has created a petition for a ballot initiative that seeks to “encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.” Florida’s current law stipulates that only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers, but this initiative would go against that rule, making it possible for businesses and property owners to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it directly to consumers.

Tory Perfetti, a conservative activist who’s head of the Florida chapter of Conservatives for Energy Freedom, told ThinkProgress that the group is planning on beginning their push for signatures on the petition next week. He and his team of volunteers will be going to businesses, college campuses, libraries and individual residences to secure signatures for the petition. In order to secure a spot on the 2016 ballot, the petition for the initiative must gain a total of 683,149 signatures from Floridians in at least seven congressional districts — though Perfetti is aiming for more than 700,000 signatures. Then, as the Tampa Bay Times reports, the ballot initiative must gain 60 percent of the vote in 2016 to pass.

Perfetti said the feedback he’s received from Floridians who read about the ballot initiative in the Tampa Bay Times has been encouraging — he’s been getting Facebook messages, calls, texts and emails from supportive conservatives and liberals in the state, he said.

“It can’t even be 40 hours yet since that article hit and the response has been overwhelming,” he said. “I’ve not had one negative response.”

That support isn’t surprising to Dooley, the tea party activist who’s fought for solar-friendly policies in Georgia, Florida and other states. Conservatives For Energy Freedom wants to increase access to solar because it believes in the free market and increasing consumer choice — two things she said conservatives, especially, can get behind.

“Free market and the freedom to choose — those are core conservative principles,” she told ThinkProgress. “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.”

But it’s not just conservatives who are interested in increasing access to solar in Florida. Last year, a poll found that 77 percent of Floridians supported net metering, a practice that allows owners of solar systems to be credited for the electricity they produce. Seventy-one percent of Floridians, according to the poll, also opposed the idea of imposing a fee on Florida residents who install solar panels on their roofs.

Some advocates of solar energy, including Conservatives for Energy Freedom, see Florida as the next frontier for solar. Along with as much of the Southeast, Florida is ranked high in potential for solar power by the Department of Energy. But the state’s laws historically haven’t been friendly to solar: along with granting only utilities the power to sell electricity to consumers, Florida also doesn’t have a renewable portfolio standard, and the state’s tangible personal property tax increases the cost of leased solar systems.

Conservatives for Energy Freedom — along with state- and regionally-based solar advocacy groups like the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, hope they can ultimately change some of these laws to be more encouraging of solar development.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be opening up alternative energy sources, and solar is one of the best ways to do that in Florida,” Perfetti said in November. “You can’t build your own power plant but you sure as heck can have solar installed on your property.”