Utilities Are Playing Dirty In Florida To Kill Solar Energy Disruption In The Cradle
from the artificial-consumers-for-stagnation dept
Facing a future where competition is rampant, customers pay less money, and solar users actually get paid for driving power back to the grid gives any entrenched utility executive heartburn. Fortunately for them, we live in an era where buying state law and tricking consumers into rooting against their own best self interests is easier than ever before. Florida (where air conditioning drives the second highest energy consumption nationally) is quickly becoming the poster child for how utilities are using ethically incontinent lawmakers and a gullible populace to prevent solar power technology from reaching critical mass.
In Florida the average household spends $1,900 a year on power, 40% higher than the national average. Yet incentives or other measures designed to spur solar power adoption are either absent or illegal, in large part thanks to utility lobbying. Last year, a coalition of solar energy advocates called the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) tried to push an amendment that would have opened up the Florida energy market to solar competition. The group helped create a coalition of some strange bedfellows dubbed “Floridians for Solar Choice” with an eye on a November 2016 ballot initiative:
Seeking to crack open Florida’s energy market at the ballot box, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) mounted a $2 million campaign to qualify a “Solar Choice” amendment for the 2016 election. The constitutional amendment would have ended Florida’s rare lock on electricity sales; only Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina have similar prohibitions. It would have freed consumers to install leased solar panels on their rooftops at no upfront expense. Retailers could have installed solar arrays and sold power to tenants in the same shopping complex.
Instead of just the boring traditional approach of attacking the initiative (which was polling at 70% public support), Florida utilities got creative. They created an operation calling itself Consumers For Smart Solar — a group pretending to support solar technology, yet whose sole purpose is to push a competing proposal that hard bakes the existing, utility-friendly regulations into the Florida state constitution. The sales pitch at the group’s website works hard to craft the illusion that the proposal is a huge boon to consumers and solar:
Amendment 1 helps those who choose solar by allowing state and local governments to pass commonsense consumer protection regulations, designed to prevent fraud, abuse and overcharging. Non-solar customers who use traditional energy are protected by these regulations and we think solar customers should be protected, too. Even if you don?t choose solar, Amendment 1 works for you by ensuring that everyone who uses the electric grid helps pay to maintain it?including big, out-of-state companies.
The “about us” section of the group’s website fails to mention its ties to the utility sector whatsoever. Instead, as we’ve also seen in telecom, the group crows that it has the support of a variety of third-party associations and minority groups, apparently willing to sell their constituents’ best interests down river for industry financing. It also has the support of a myriad of groups just like itself, professing to be “coalitions of working people, business owners, environmentalists,” yet oddly enough supporting proposals that work in stark opposition to the interests of pretty much everybody — except utilities.
In other words, an ouroboros of carefully-constructed bullshit built specifically to protect the status quo.
Unsurprisingly, the initiative backed by companies and individuals actually supporting solar power has raised $1.52 million as of January 1, while the initiative backed by regional utilities like Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power has raised nearly 7 million. Outspent and outgunned, Floridians for Solar Choice (the group actually for energy market disruption and evolution) was forced to retreat and refocus on the 2018 ballot initiative, while the utility-backed proposal remains on track for a potential November approval, with few seemingly bothered that the masquerade has been so successful.