Fighting for Solar Power in ‘the Sunshine State’

Earthjustice is fighting Florida’s anti-solar ballot initiative in the state Supreme Court.

Solar panels
Solar panels in the dusk of the evening

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Today, Earthjustice attorneys were in the Florida Supreme Court arguing a case that could determine the future of solar energy in the state.

You’d think that growing solar power would be a no-brainer in a place with the nickname “the Sunshine State.” But the fact is, our utilities profit from the status quo, which depends on an outdated electric distribution model: building more power plants and fossil-fuel infrastructure.

The emerging, more nimble and less centralized model—where businesses and homeowners put solar panels on their roofs to generate power—threatens the utilities’ longtime stranglehold. Now, these corporations are coming out swinging—and they’re playing dirty.

That’s why we filed a challenge in the Florida Supreme Court on behalf of three citizens’ groups: Progress Florida, Environment Florida and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

We’re challenging a utility-backed (and misleadingly named) “Smart Solar” Florida constitutional amendment, which the utilities are trying to put on the November 2016 ballot. The utilities are getting help from notorious billionaire fossil fuel profiteers the Koch brothers.

In Florida, all proposed state constitutional amendments have to go before the state Supreme Court, which rules on two standards: Does the measure deal with a single subject? Does the ballot summary accurately describe what the amendment would do?

In court today, we argued that the utility’s amendment should be removed from the ballot because it’s misleading. The ballot summary for voters claims that the amendment will encourage the use of rooftop solar, when in fact, it would do the opposite.

If the constitutional amendment were passed, people who install rooftop solar could end up paying higher utility bills than their neighbors without solar. It’s not “Smart Solar,” it’s anti-solar.

Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone magazine recently wrote an article about our solar fight in Florida, and he pointed out:

“The Sunshine State has the best solarity east of the Mississippi, and the third-best rooftop solar potential in America. Yet measured by solar production, it ranks just 16th in the nation. It's dwarfed by solar giants like California. Florida even lags behind Northern states like New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York.”

Dickinson contacted former Florida Governor Charlie Crist to get his take on the ballot measure. “It defies logic,” Crist said. “It's absolutely absurd.”

We agree, and we’re hopeful that the anti-solar amendment will be struck from the November ballot. We don’t know when the Florida Supreme Court will rule on the case, but we will keep you posted.

What really irks us is, through this sleight-of-hand amendment, the utilities are actually proposing to tell us what we are allowed to do on our own roofs with the light that shines from the sun.

The utilities already have a monopoly on fossil fuels; now they are trying to extend their monopoly to the sun itself. In the Florida office, we’ve been asking ourselves tongue-in-cheek but sort of seriously: Next, are they going after the moon?


David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.

The Florida regional office wields the power of the law to protect our waterways and biodiversity, promote a just and reliable transition to clean energy, and defend communities disproportionately burdened by pollution.