Leaders of a solar energy trade association are touring Florida this week encouraging people to vote against the ballot question known as Amendment 1. The Solar Energy Industries Association is a national group with 1,000 member companies. WMNF interviewed Tom Kimbis, their interim president.
“We’re opposing it because we think it’s very deceptive in how it’s written, to the voters. We think the voters deserve clarity and truth in what they’re voting on. We have seen evidence of voters, clogging my inbox, saying ‘Hey, I wanted to vote for a pro-solar amendment and instead I voted for Amendment 1 and now what I’m hearing is that it’s an anti-solar amendment.’ So, really what we’re here about, is clarity.”
And that clarity in what your describing as deception is something that the Florida Supreme Court might take another look at because [Wednesday] some groups that are opposing Amendment 1 are asking the court to look at it again.
“Exactly. And although we’re not a party, as a national organization, to that suit, we support the fact that the language should be clear to the voters, especially in amending the Florida’s Constitution; that they understand what they’re voting for.”
Part of the reason that they’re bringing the suit is that this tape emerged from the James Madison Institute, where the gentleman – the Vice President – there was saying they could use ‘political jujitsu.’ He said, ‘use the language of promoting solar and kind of put on these protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftops.’
So, these ‘protections for consumers who choose not to use solar’ is one of the sticking points. And in a statement to the Miami Herald, the industry – the Florida Power and Light – said that they’re concerned about subsidies that benefit certain customers on the backs of other customers and they give the examples of rebates and ‘net metering.’
So, it sounds like Amendment 1 would try to somehow restrict rebates to solar customers and net metering. What are those two things and do you think they should be restricted?
“They certainly shouldn’t be restricted. I think what you’re seeing is the more time goes on, the more the true motives of the utilities in this are coming to light. I mean, they’re just digging themselves deeper and deeper into the hole here.
“In what was originally posited as a pro-solar amendment, I think is now coming clearer that the true issue behind this has nothing to do with giving the people of Florida more rights to go solar or make it easier for them to go solar. Instead, it’s a more arcane debate having to do with things like net metering, which is a billing mechanism used across the country or certain rebates, which might be available or might not, in the future to Florida residents.
“In fact, I think what you are seeing with this– what I see is an admission by the utilities, in that statement, that what’s really behind all of this, is the fact that net metering is a concern to the utilities; shows that this is part of a national issue that’s spanning from Nevada to Arizona, across the country–where our organization SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) is currently engaged–against the utilities, to make sure that net metering, as a concept, is available to the people of that state.
“In Florida, there is net metering. We see this as sort of a little bit of an insight into what the utilities are really trying to do with Amendment 1, which is restrict net metering, which would really hamper the ability of people to go solar.”
Without using the jargony terms, what is net metering? It’s kind of a way of telling how much solar power you’re generating at your house and getting a credit for that solar power when it feeds back into the grid?
“Right. Net metering is sort of a fundamental component, a fundamental right of the people who are going solar across the country. It makes it more affordable by having the excess energy that you generate on your rooftop, when you’re not there, when you’re at work or you’re out shopping, whatever it is, that power can then be sent back into the grid and you get credit for it.
“Without net metering you are getting no credit for that excess electricity that you’re producing, which then flows into the grid and winds up powering, say, your neighbor’s house.
“So, really it’s an issue of parity and making sure that you, as a homeowner who’s invested in a solar system that’s generating electricity to power your home and others, are getting a fair deal.”
So, let’s cut to the chase here. You represent the solar industry, you have the motivation to increase the amount of solar power that’s on people’s rooftops. If people share your views, how would you recommend that they vote on Amendment 1?
“Well, they absolutely should vote ‘No’ on Amendment 1.
“You know, we’re coming at this, as you said, as a national trade association. We’re here to promote solar. We’re doing it for many reasons. We’re a non-profit organization. We want to see solar grow across the country to grow jobs, to grow economic benefits for national security, to mitigate climate change.
“We think Florida being 15th in the country right now, is not where it needs to be. I think it’s got enormous potential to be up in the top 5, if not the top 3, within the next 5 years.
“This amendment is sort of a — it’s a shame. It’s a setback, when we could be focusing our attentions in Florida on how to advance solar rather than burden it.”
Finally, the backers of Amendment 1 say that the people who choose not to put solar on the rooftops shouldn’t subsidize those who do. Your response?
“This is an issue that comes up in every single state and it really becomes a battle of the studies. What I mean by that is all studies show that there’s some costs and some benefits to the entire system, the entire ecosystem of the grid–if you can imagine that–by putting this new, cutting-edge technology of solar on a rooftop.
“Who benefits? Where are the costs? Each study shows something slightly different, but, many studies show that the benefits outweigh the costs; that when you put solar on your house, what you’re really doing is you are offsetting, for the utility, the cost of having to put say, a new substation in your neighborhood, because you’re providing new power.
“These studies promoted by the utilities or some promoted by the solar companies or some by independent universities, etc., come up with a range of different costs and benefits, but, those are the costs and benefits that need to be decided and discussed by the [Public Service Commission], here in Florida or in the Governor’s office, at the energy office, to figure out what’s really the best measurement for if somebody wants to go solar, what sort of compensation they should get for the electricity that they’re producing.
“It’s not as black and white as utilities are making it sound, that it’s a subsidy. It’s not a subsidy at all, it’s just a simple billing mechanism.”
Great. Thanks so much for your time today.
“Thanks for allowing me to be here.”