Editorials

Solar, eclipsed

TNS

Nobody should be “shocked, shocked” that the power of the pen — the pen that writes the hefty check — has so far made solar energy a nonstarter in the Sunshine State.

As reported by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, state lawmakers have virtually snuffed out Floridians’ ability to choose this cleaner and progressive energy source to control their own electricity rates.

Florida is one of five states that deny residents and businesses the right to buy solar power electricity directly from someone other than a power company.

It’s no surprise that many lawmakers have thrown their constituents under the bus in favor of industries that help keep them in office and ward off Election Day opposition. It’s that shamefully simple, and the formula works on both sides of the aisle.

In recent years, legislators gave cover to derelict assisted-living facilities where people were neglected or mistreated; they are considering initiatives to put guns on campuses, in the middle of natural disasters and just about every other nook and cranny in the state. These follies come courtesy of the NRA, long used to getting its way in Tallahassee.

But here’s how deep the antipathy toward broadening the use of solar energy runs in the Legislature: “You know how Tallahassee has an in-group and an out-group?” That’s former state Rep. Paige Kreegel asking the question. “I didn’t know I was on the outside until I went against the public utilities, and then — holy hell.”

In 2009, Mr. Kreegel, a Republican from Punta Gorda, chaired the House Committee on Energy. He thought that the state’s needless restrictions on rooftop solar panels should be revisited, loosened and brought in line with free-market principles. And he was right.

But he erred — badly — in gauging his colleagues’ desire to jump on board his initiative. He, too, got thrown under that bus, leaving Florida residents with few options to go solar.

According to the Florida Center’s April 7 story, “Other lawmakers and lobbyists say that anyone who has attempted to expand the rooftop solar industry has been ostracized. The reason, some lawmakers say, is that Florida’s largest utilities have invested heavily in state political campaigns to fend off competition.”

Utility companies have contributed $12 million to state lawmakers’ election campaigns since 2010, campaign records show. In other words, customers of the four largest utilities in the state — Duke Energy, Gulf Power, Florida Power & Light and Tampa Electric — are funding this tamping down on their options. Contributions have been made to every member of the Senate and House leadership. The biggest winner is Gov. Rick Scott, who, through two political action committees, reaped more than $1 million since 2010.

As with the push for Amendment 1 to preserve environmentally fragile land, there is a drive to put the solar-energy issue on the ballot and, eventually, in the state Constitution. This document is already larded with initiatives that the Legislature was too cowed to act upon.

FPL has made its own investment in solar energy. Alys Daly, from FPL’s public-affairs office, told the Editorial Board, “We like solar technology. We have three solar power plants in the state, the first of its kind, and a hybrid plant runs on natural gas and solar. We want to do more solar.” And so does the private-investment market.

But these investors have been unfairly shut out in a state that claims to be all about business.

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