Politifact florida examines al gore’s warning about utilities’ plan for solar amendment electricity khan academy

"The things they claim protect solar are protections you already have," Gore said at Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus on Oct. 11. "But they are trying to fool you into amending your state Constitution in a way that gives them the authority to shut down net metering and do in Florida what they did in Nevada and just kill the solar industry."

Amendment 1 is widely considered a deliberate attempt by utilities to erect barriers to competition and prevent third-party leasing of solar. But Gore goes a bit too far to say the measure would automatically grant utilities unchecked "authority" to kill net metering.

Amendment 1 drew fire for crowding out a more grass-roots solar power amendment that failed to make this year’s ballot — in part because utility companies contributed millions to Amendment 1’s war chest. The Florida Supreme Court determined the language of the amendment was not misleading and approved it, 4-3.

The amendment will leave that ban in place, but, if the ban on solar leasing were removed, the language in the amendment could discourage third-party sales. It gives utility companies the right to impose new fees on all solar customers, making solar sales and leasing less economical.

Audio surfaced this month of Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the utilities-backed James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, at an energy summit calling the amendment "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that "would completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road," according to the Miami Herald.

"State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."

The first clause protects a person’s ability to put solar panels on their house. Current law already allows that. The second half is the controversial part, because critics like Gore say it will allow utility companies to end a process called net metering.

Utility companies nationwide have argued that this is unfair, because homes with solar panels are getting all the benefits of being connected to the grid without having to pay as much for the upkeep of generators and transmission lines as other customers. Traditional customers, they say, are subsidizing solar customers.

Solar promoters disagree with those claims. They argue that instead of costing non-solar customers more, solar energy brings more value to the electricity distribution system than it takes away. A Brookings Institution study in May said adding solar power cuts costs and increases efficiency, leading to customer savings.

Amendment 1 opponents therefore fear that utilities will lobby the state to allow a surcharge on solar customers or, as Gore said, change the policy for net metering. If Amendment 1 is approved, state officials could define what it means to "subsidize" solar power.

Ending net metering would strangle a vital revenue source for those third-party solar companies, which make money by leasing the equipment and selling excess power to utilities. The chance to cripple competitors would give utilities a big incentive to kill net metering.

Amendment 1 would potentially give utilities a constitutional argument to eventually charge solar customers more, or change net metering policies. There’s no certain proof that Florida regulators would approve either, but experts told us it’s a very reasonable suspicion.