Wow, what a great campaign! No, I’m not referring to the bitterly divisive U.S. presidential race, but the successful campaign that grassroots and national groups launched in Florida. Not long after the polls closed on election night, it became clear that Sunshine State voters had rejected Amendment 1, a utility-backed ballot measure that could have severely hurt Florida’s fledgling solar market. Congratulations to local groups Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) and the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, as well as all of their partners, on a job well done.
FSC fittingly called the fight between solar advocates and the state utilities “a true David and Goliath battle.” Although an organization with the deceiving name Consumers for Smart Solar technically spearheaded the effort to get Amendment 1 passed, utilities had invested millions of dollars into the measure. Making matters worse, the amendment was really, really misleading. Admittedly, after first reading the proposed measure’s language, I didn’t see what the big deal was. In fact, Amendment 1 seemed, as Consumers for Smart Solar claimed, pro-solar.
Alas, the devil was in the details. Amendment 1 declared it would enable Florida consumers to own and lease their own solar installations, but as solar advocates pointed out, homeowners already have that right. However, the solar-related ballot measure also included a sentence with the undefined term “subsidize,” and as such, Consumers for Smart Solar claimed the amendment would protect consumers from “unfair subsidies.” Adding that kind of language into the state constitution, solar advocates warned, would have opened the door for Florida utilities to impose new fees on solar customers and diminish important policies, such as net metering.
Toward the end of the campaign, things got dramatic after a leaked audio recording of a think-tank leader revealed Amendment 1 was intentionally designed to mislead voters and seem pro-solar. Solar advocates then launched a last-minute legal battle in the Florida Supreme Court, but their pleas were denied. Ultimately, though, solar proponents pulled off the huge task of educating voters to realize Amendment 1 was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and the proposal was defeated.
Now, about that presidential election: Hillary Clinton was, without a doubt, a better candidate in terms of clean energy. I tried to prove that in an editorial not too long ago, and I received some heated phone calls and emails from readers. Please remember that the opinions I express are solely my own, don’t represent those of the Solar Industry team, and are merely that – opinions. I present as many facts as this small page allows me to fit, and then the decision is up to you, the readers. Regardless of my political beliefs, however, rest assured that no matter what, I am – and always will be – a solar advocate.
During his campaign, Donald Trump made many frightening pledges regarding clean energy, including reviving the coal industry, dismantling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, abolishing the Clean Power Plan and backing out of the Paris Agreement, among others. With any luck, those were just empty campaign promises, but I have spoken to a number of solar stakeholders, even at the government level, who are gravely concerned about what a Trump presidency might mean for renewables.
Regardless, I’m confident the U.S. solar industry will prevail. No matter who is in the White House, solar technology will continue to advance and become cheaper, and more utilities and state regulators will get on board the clean energy track. Are there going to be some major challenges in the future? Most likely – especially with a new Republican-controlled Congress that could help Trump follow through on his energy plans – but the solar industry still has many friends in Washington and across the U.S.
I congratulate Trump and his supporters on their victory, and now that the ballots have been counted and the ugly election is over, I sincerely hope this divided country can begin to heal. Nevertheless, U.S. solar proponents must stand ready to rise up against any future opposition, be it on the federal or state level. That’s why I appreciated the recent victory in Florida, where local groups and national heavyweights, including the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Vote Solar and the Sierra Club, partnered to defeat Amendment 1. That level of collaboration in support of solar, though increasingly common, was encouraging to see and might become even more necessary in the years ahead. After voters rejected Amendment 1, SEIA suggested the result of the successful campaign was “worthy of recognition on a national scale.” I fully agree.