Supporters, Opponents Put Light Between Solar Measures

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Backers and opponents of a solar-energy proposal on the November ballot aren’t making predictions after a separate alternative-energy measure was overwhelmingly approved by voters Tuesday.

Instead of comparing the two measures, the group Consumers for Smart Solar said its “sole focus” is advancing the November ballot proposal. The proposal, known as Amendment 1, is backed by the utility industry and would primarily put into the state Constitution existing rules on the use of solar energy in Florida.

“Amendment 1 gives Florida an historic opportunity to advance solar energy while protecting consumers, both those who choose solar and those who do not,” Jim Kallinger, a former Republican lawmaker who is co-chairman of Consumers for Smart Solar, said in a prepared statement after being asked if there was anything to be learned from Tuesday’s vote. “We are committed to running a strong campaign to reach every voter going into November and are gratified by recent polling that shows overwhelming support for Amendment 1.”

The measure approved Tuesday was put on the primary ballot by the Legislature and received nearly 73 percent of the vote. Known as Amendment 4, it was backed by business and environmental groups.

But the November proposal has been more controversial, drawing opposition from groups such as the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy that argue the measure is intended to benefit utilities.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, wouldn’t make comparisons between Tuesday’s results and how a larger number of voters will swing in November when they go to the polls for the presidential race.

“We have been very careful over the last few months because the confusion over the two ballots could be pretty intense,” said Smith, whose group supported Tuesday’s amendment. “Even though we were talking about ‘no on (Amendment) 1 in November,’ we had not been able to focus on that.”

Smith said that has now changed.

After being approved Tuesday, Amendment 4 is expected to exempt for 20 years the assessed value of solar and renewable-energy devices installed on businesses and industrial properties. Voters approved a similar exemption for residential property owners in 2008, with the measure taking effect in 2014.

Amendment 4, which state lawmakers must still enact into law, also has an element to help residential property owners, as it would exempt all renewable-energy equipment from state tangible personal property taxes.

The Consumers for Smart Solar proposal, meanwhile, would allow “individuals and businesses to own and lease solar equipment to generate their own electricity while providing specific legal authorization for the leasing of solar equipment — a practice that occurs now but is not yet specifically authorized in Florida.”

Supporters of Amendment 1 have already spent more than $15.8 million, with much of the money coming from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power.

In June, the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found 68.2 percent support statewide for the amendment approved Tuesday. In that same survey, support for Amendment 1 on the November ballot was at 77.3 percent, with just 6.8 percent opposed and 15.9 percent unsure.

Constitutional amendments need support from 60 percent of voters to pass.

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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