In late October, singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett—decked out in his signature baseball cap and aviators, scenic beach at his back—posted a video on YouTube for his Floridian fans: This November, be like him and vote “no” on Amendment 1. He held up his index finger for emphasis, then he repeated it in Spanish.
Amendment 1, or “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” sounds reasonable—it’s hard to argue against a person’s right to choose. But critics are calling the amendment’s bluff: As written, it could achieve exactly the opposite, instead making it impossible to choose solar in Florida. Amendment 1 would add a section to the state constitution protecting the government’s right to “ensure that customers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs.” Legally, it opens the door for everything from charging extra fees every time a solar household uses traditional electricity (that is, at night), to dissolving a state program, called net-metering, that makes solar affordable by giving users credit for the excess energy they generate.
Critics say Amendment 1 stands to destroy solar energy in Florida, and they have reason to think so—similar bills in other states like Nevada have brought the industry to a grinding halt. That’s not surprising: Amendment 1 was introduced by Consumers for Smart Solar, a group made up almost entirely of utility companies that have spent close to $26 million trying to get the initiative passed.
But the opposition to the amendment has gathered steam, in part because of an unlikely alliance: Tea Party conservatives and progressive environmentalists have come together to fight Amendment 1 as part of a group called Floridians for Solar Choice.
“Deception cuts across all of the political spectrum,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and a Floridians for Solar Choice board member. “People want truth. They don’t want to be misled, and they don’t like heavy-handed bullies like the utilities in Florida.” The Libertarian Party of Florida, the Republican Liberty Caucus, and many of the grassroots groups represented by Florida’s Tea Party Network have all signed on to Floridians for Solar Choice.
“The dismal and sometimes scandalous history of solar power in Florida stems not from solar companies, but from the big electric power companies,” Catherine Baer, chair of the Tea Party network, wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat last year. “Floridians need the freedom to choose solar without interference from government or from monopolies.”