Voters get to decide on Solar Amendment and Game Changer in primary

Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Come the Aug. 30 primary, voters will find on the ballot a solar-energy related amendment and the local game changer project. Or if they early vote, they will get an opportunity to register their voice on these two issues earlier Ballot Amendment 4, which is supported by the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and the nonprofit Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN), would allow property owners and small businesses to get a tax break on equipment if they install solar power. It would also give a tax break to companies that lease solar panels to homeowners. Ballot Amendment 4 is not to be confused with Ballot Amendment 1, which will appear on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election and which the utility companies are supporting. And the game changer, of course, is the multipurpose amateur sport facility that’s proposed for the I-10 and SR-59 interchange near Lloyd. The county commissioners voted to put this “county referendum” on the ballot in order to get the Jefferson County’s citizens’ opinion. However, this referendum is non-binding and the county commissioners can/could still vote against the voters choice. But, this is Jefferson County’s chance to Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.36.46 AMspeak out about the Game Changer and if they want the county to initially fund the project. On the ballot, Amendment 4 is formally titled Solar Devices or Renewable Energy Source Devices; Exemptions from Certain Taxation and Assessments. The LWVF and FL SUN urge voters to say “yes” to Amendment 4, and “no” to Amendment 1. “Amendment 4 would exempt commercial solar panels from onerous property taxes,” says LWVF President Pamela Goodman. “Amendment 1 is a utility-backed measure that would limit the ability of individual Floridians from going solar.” Amendment 4 additionally has the support of the Florida Realtors, Tea Party organizations, Christian Coalition, and Sierra Club, among other groups. To set the scenario for Amendment 4, consider that although Florida is the third largest nationally in terms of electricity customers, less than one percent — or about 11,626 of the state’s 7.9 million utility customers — have rooftop solar panels on their houses — due in no small part to the Florida Legislature ending solar rebates. Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey, to name a few other states, far outrank Florida in solar energy capacity and the types of policies that encourage the generation of electricity from renewable sources. Proponents of Amendment 4 say its passage will not only encourage the use of solar energy, but it will help curb the reliance on fossil fuel. As for Amendment 1, critics say it would essentially enshrine in the Florida Constitution the utility companies’ control over the solar marketplace, as well as limit customers’ options and perpetuate the myth that non-solar customers are subsidizing solar customers. Formally titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Energy Choice, the measure not long ago cleared a hurdle when the Florida Supreme Court approved its language for the ballot. Not all the Justices signed on to the measure, however; three dissented, and foremost among the latter was Justice Barbara Pariente. She reportedly referred to the initiative as an example of the proverbial ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment (Amendment 1), supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo,” Pariente is quoted saying. If approved, she said, Amendment 1 would result in the elevation of the existing rights of the government to regulate solar energy use and establish that regulatory power as a constitutional right in Florida. Amendment 4, on the other hand, would result in more people having access to renewable energy, according to the LWVF. As for the game changer, it is the code name for the multipurpose amateur sports complex that is proposed for the Lloyd area. Enough has been written and said about this project that most voters should have a fairly good idea of what it is, or at least be familiar with the general concept.