Florida: Politicians in Big Oil’s Pocket Beware, The People want their Solar

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Florida voters have overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4, which exempts solar panels and solar equipment from extra taxes. Before this, if someone put up solar panels on their house in Florida, as we did in Michigan, and it caused the value of the house to increase (it usually does), then homeowners had to pay taxes on the increase value. Likewise companies that leased solar panels had to pay taxes on them as capital equipment, making leasing rates higher than they otherwise should have been. Also, since the state’s constitution gave utilities a monoply on energy generation, leasing the panels was problematic.

Florida is number 3 in the country for solar potential, but number 18 in installations, largely because of nefarious dirty tricks by the Carbon Moguls.

That ugly past may not be over, but it is receding. The polling suggested that 73 percent supported the constitutional amendment, whereas it only needed 60 percent to pass.

What is amazing is that both houses of the Florida legislature voted by unanimous vote. In the past, the Florida legislature had been hostile to renewable energy, apparently taking money from the Koch Brothers’ ALEC lobby and from Florida utilities to hinder it.

This time, Republican politicians began speaking of “energy freedom,” seeing the ability of homeowners to put up solar panels as more congruent with the free market than utility monopolies are. For some of those who talk that way, it is a matter of personal conviction. For others, it may be that they now have money from green energy PACs. Note too that the cost of installing solar panels has plummeted over the past 4 years, so that a lot of homeowners are now interested in it who had not been before.

One of the things I dislike about the mainstream press is that none of the network reports on Amendment 4’s victory admitted this sordid history of bought politicians dirtying up and boiling the planet. I just linked to fcir.org, an investigative journalism outfit; please give them money.

Or consider this piece at The Rolling Stone explains how past attempts to get something like Amendment 4 on the ballot were foiled by the utilities and the Kochs.

So did the legislators underestimate the popularity of Amendment 4? Did they think they’d assuage public opinion by putting it on the ballot, getting points, and then it wouldn’t pass? Or have the green energy entrepreneurs begun out-lobbying the utilities and Big Oil? Whatever it is, something big has changed. That Amendment 4 was put before the public at all, and that the public trounced the lobbyists, announces a sea change in which sordid deals in back rooms by the Carbon Moguls with fresh-facced and clueless state senators are no longer determinative. The people are getting a say, and they want to make it easier and cheaper to go solar.

The next big item on which voters will get a say is Amendment 1, this fall. It seeks to punish those who opt for solar power on the specious argument that non-solar customers shouldn’t have to bear the burden of upgrading the electricity grid or other infrastructural changes that will come with the extra solar energy.

Right. So if someone put in an energy-efficient refrigerator, should they be fined for that?

And, actually, of course, people who can afford to get solar panels but do not install them are the ones who should be fined. They are putting billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air, which causes global warming and sea level rise. If second-hand smoke makes smoking in the presence of minors or on state property a crime, then surely dumping lethal CO2 out there should attract an even larger fine.

Some environmentalists in Florida are afraid that people will vote for Amendment 1 without fully understanind its regressive implications.

But I think what Amendment 4 demonstrates is that the days when the politicians who are in the back pocket of Big Oil can run on a denialist platform and just snow the public are over.

Green energy is so popular in heavily polluted China that 93% of consumers say in polling that they would pay more for electricity generated by renewables. The Chinese government faces pushback from coal miners and other big groups of workers for its rapid dash toward green energy, but this poll shows that Xi Jinping can rely on the support of the public for his unprecedented program.

The sea change in public opinion is coming too late to stop us from getting to a 7 degrees F./ 4 degrees C. increase in global average temperature over the next few centuries. That is problematic, since it is not clear that human beings can flourish in a world that hot and possibly unstable. But there is a difference between a 7 degrees F. and a 12 degees F. increase, and there’s some hope we can avoid the latter.

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Related video:

Roundtable on solar Amendment 4 at USFSP: WMNF News 1

9 Responses

  1. Haven’t been there, but the reports are that fairly large areas of expensive near-ocean/bay neighborhoods are regularly being flooded by rising sea levels.

    I grew up with the gasoline economy that has powered our American (and world) prosperity, but which must now end forthright if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

    I live in a suburban American environment in which a high proportion of families continue to choose 3-ton vehicles capable of seating 6-8 passengers but which are generally used with 1-3 passengers, despite the fact the many of these family’s designated drivers are incapable of conducting their vehicles with any efficiency or effectiveness on the roads and parking structures of our suburban landscape.

    It’s an ugly, and anti-hopeful picture I confront nearly every day. It’s good to see that Florida residents and voters see that they have to DO something to make a change.

  2. Amendment 1 got on the ballot because the paid signature gatherers told voters they were sighing the petition put out by solar energy volunteers. It was 4-3Florida SC decision that allowed it on the ballot. The true solar energy petition will be out in 2018. The 2016 Amendment 1 is the utility’s attempt to stop solar energy.

    We want this one voted down to make way for the true solar energy petition in 2018. Florida is so backward on solar energy that Massachusetts, Georgia are way ahead of Florida.

  3. Corruption in Florida is its principal industry, and is not over: it simply saw more private gain in solar due to the partly illusory prospect of savings. Public utilities are actually a great thing, and private solar selling power to them at meter rates is unfair transfer of the cost of the power lines, but it is time for solar anyway. The utilities can probably get better efficiency than private solar and should do that. But they have enormous investments in present technology that must be paid for. So a fair means of cost balancing without hampering solar is the real issue.

    • Erik : “private solar selling power to them at meter rates is unfair transfer of the cost of the power lines”

      Perhaps the power bill to each user should breakdown the costs, so much for the actual generation, so much for transmission lines, etc. and so on, if that is truly their argument. Call their bluff.

      • Yes, that would be quite helpful in clarifying the issues. The cost of transmission is much greater than the cost of generation, so to be fair the local sell-back meter should charge for the power line in either direction. But most meters just measure the power going by, so they need new meters. That’s why they’re sensitive about it.

        Then there’s the problem that the power company has to handle the peak loads, so they have idle capacity at off-peak times, that they pay capital costs on but don’t use much. That’s why the y charge less for customers who can schedule off-peak consumption. The local generator can force them to buy power when they don’t need it, which worsens their off-peak idle capacity costs.

        The answer as you suggest, is meters that track all that and charge fairly in either direction.

        In some states like Florida, solar output is greatest just when the air conditioning demand peaks, so the problem is somewhat less.

      • Eric: Some states, like my state, Maine, prohibit utilities from owning both the grid components and power generators. My bills have two parts, one for transmission, one for cost of power.

  4. The Koch brothers have actually become big supporters of solar – as long as they own the solar and can charge big prices for free energy from the sun. They are pushing an ALEC poison pill to get state legislatures to charge people who install solar on their homes extra under some crazy economic theory and some easily bought state legislatures have already passed it.

    • Since these artificial penalties can only punish people who actually are connected to the grid, I guess more and more people will disconnect. Which will create a real crisis for the utilities that could have been avoided. Watch the price of battery storage systems and attempts by small groups of people to create microgrids.

  5. Juan, whenever something nefarious or obnoxious turns up in a state legislature, if you poke around for a minute, you find ALEC. Can you or one of your “Friends and Interlocutors” do some research on this plague and report back?

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