Inside Florida’s Solar Civil War

Two rival ballot measures over solar power are in an epic duel to collect enough signatures to be on the ballot during the 2016 election. Both ballot measures advocate for increased use of solar power by the Sunshine State, but the respective campaigns vehemently oppose one another.

Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) wants an amendment to the state constitution that would make leasing rooftop solar panels and selling excess electricity to other people easier. The group is a coalition of environmentalists, conservative Christians, and solar energy companies. Tory Perfetti, director of FSC, claims the “ballot initiative will open up the energy market in Florida to freedom of choice and allow commerce to be conducted through the free market.”

Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS) wants an amendment that allows resident to own or lease equipment that produces solar energy for personal use. Their proposed amendment would ensure that residents who don’t produce solar energy don’t have to subsidize the extra costs solar imposes on the electric grid. The group was formed out of opposition to FSC. Jim Kallinger, co-chairman of the CSS, claims his group’s “Smart Solar Amendment provides voters exactly what they want — more solar with consumer protection and without subsidies.”

A poll in July showed that only 30 percent of voters would support the amendment offered by FSC with 45 percent saying they would vote “no.” CSS did much better, with 66 percent of voters supporting their amendment and only 22 percent opposing it.

FSC claims that the “ballot initiative has nothing to do with subsidies or handouts for the solar industry.” Yet, the kind of rooftop solar it is pursuing is already heavily subsidized by the already existing 30 percent federal tax credit for home solar panels. Solar and wind power have been heavily subsidized since at least the 1970s. In 2010, wind power alonereceived $5 billion in subsidies while and solar received $1,134 million. This oil and natural gas only got $654 million in subsidies during those years.

Despite these huge subsidies, in 2014 solar power accounted for only 0.4 percent of of electricity generated in the United States according to the Energy Information Administration. The total amount of energy created by solar is very small despite the subsidies.