On Sept. 1, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a proposed constitutional amendment entitled Limits or Prevents Barriers to Local Solar Electricity Supply.
This amendment would enable third-party solar, in which a company installs solar panels on a building owner’s roof and sells electricity to the owner at a fixed rate for a fixed time period. This is a booming business in other states, but not in Florida, where it is effectively prohibited by antiquated regulations.
Third-party solar companies are eager to do business in Florida and could provide customers with access to cheap solar electricity without expensive up-front installation costs.
The Florida Supreme Court’s review of petitions that have received a minimum number of signatures (as the solar initiative has) is limited to two questions: whether the amendment title and summary text are clear and unambiguous; and whether the amendment addresses a single subject.
Arguments that the amendment summary is unclear and hides its core purpose of removing an entire class of utilities from regulatory jurisdiction are unfounded. The summary clearly defines regulation as a barrier to solar and clearly aims to remove local solar providers from this regulation.
Some have argued that because the amendment does not mention the Public Service Commission, voters will be confused. But an amendment stating that it removes most local and state regulation is clearer to voters than an amendment removing “Public Service Commission jurisdiction” would be.
Further, the amendment addresses the single subject of limiting and preventing the application of existing regulations that effectively prohibit third-party solar. The amendment does not “logroll” several subjects together. Logrolling occurs when two different, sometimes opposing, issues are within one amendment, forcing a voter to address lumped-together subjects on which the voter lacks uniform views. Voters on the amendment would address just one issue: whether private, third-party solar companies should continue to be subject to regulation that effectively prohibits them from operating in the state.
In a recent case, the Florida Supreme Court emphasized that it has “been reluctant to interfere” with “the right of self-determination for all Florida’s citizens” to formulate “their own organic law.” In the solar context, it is time to let Florida voters decide whether they want realistic access to rooftop solar.
Hannah J. Wiseman, professor, College of Law,
Florida State University, Tallahassee