Florida has a lot of laws banning odd things.
Public buildings are not allowed to install doors that open inward; skateboarding anywhere in the state is illegal without a permit; and until March of this year, living with a partner outside of marriage was a crime.
These legacy laws are never enforced. But there's another that is enforced every day: a ban on third-party sales of solar electricity.
Solar advocates say the law is unfair to companies that want to sell solar energy directly to homeowners and business owners. And after multiple failed attempts to open up the electricity market, solar supporters are now pushing a ballot initiative that would allow people to buy solar electricity from a company other than a regulated utility.
The campaign to change the law is breaking down traditional political lines. Free-market conservative groups have banded together with environmentalists, religious organizations and local business interests to gather 100,000 signatures in support of opening up the market to solar.
However, it's causing a rift in other areas.
As the Supreme Court prepares to address the issue in September, city officials from around the state are clashing over its implications. Last month, the Florida League of Cities, an organization that represents 400 municipalities around Florida, sided with utilities opposed to the measure. In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the organization echoed the concerns of power companies, saying it would burden non-solar ratepayers, restrict the legislature, and interfere with municipal utility ratemaking.
"Much of the amendment would have the de facto effect of repealing, or requiring the adjustment of, rates, fees, charges, and tariffs on customers," wrote the lawyers representing the league.
But the biggest concern is money. The group estimated that local tax dollars collected through electricity sales could get cut by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Those arguments didn't sit well with some city representatives, who say the League of Cities never voted on the decision. This week, a group of 17 officials from 13 cities wrote a scathing letter calling the brief "alarmist."
"The arguments presented in the brief are alarmist, unsupported and speculative. As such, we call for the League to withdraw the initial brief filed with the Court," wrote the group of mayors, commissioners and council members.
The substantive arguments in The League’s brief are aggressive, speculative, and some are well outside the League’s scope or expertise. For instance, the brief argues that the amendment might create inequitable rate structures between solar and non-solar customers. When did the League’s interest include utility regulatory ratemaking design and policy?
Moreover, arguments related to material future negative impacts to local municipalities due to reduced utility revenue and the local fees dependent on such revenue, such as franchise fees and public service tax is again, highly speculative and unfounded.
Rather than aggressively attacking a solar ballot initiative intended to expand the benefits of solar power to more of our constituents, shouldn’t the League be supportive of innovative ways to promote solar power? The League’s brief is alarmist, short-sighted, and not approved through proper protocol. As such, we support immediate withdrawal of the initial brief.
The war of words continues to escalate in Florida where conservative groups rail against monopoly utilities and the utilities themselves worry about a campaign they believe was created to annihilate them.
“What is the goal here? Is it to promote solar or to destroy utilities? It’s to destroy utilities. They want to over-generate and sell electricity. That is their goal. And to rely on the grid and not pay for it," said Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, speaking to Florida Watchdog.
“We believe the regulatory and political system in Florida is broken because of the undue financial influence of the monopoly utilities,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, in an earlier interview with GTM.
The Supreme Court will consider the ballot initiative in September. If approved, it will be considered by voters in the 2016 elections.
Listen to an interview with Debbie Dooley, the leader of the Green Tea Coalition, about why she's so focused on solar choice: