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The Brutus Papers

Sunblock – Florida Style

Sun Screen - Florida Style

Sunblock – Florida Style

I’M AT THE AGE WHERE I PAY AN ANNUAL VIST TO MY DERMATOLOGIST to be sure that I’m not accumulating any sun spots that could become hazardous to my health. So far so good! A splash of liquid nitrogen on a brown spot or two and I’m on my way – usually with a recommendation about the kind of sunblock my doctor thinks I should use to put a barrier between my skin and the UV rays of the hot Florida sun.

We have to be careful in the kind of sunblock we use to protect our skin; there’re a lot of chemicals in the typical product, and I’m told these can lead to cancer. So what my doctor has to say is important.

But there’s another kind of “sun-block” that’s also quite troubling. This sun-block puts an unnecessary and expensive barrier between us Floridians and the sun’s highly energetic and economic solar rays.

This kind of sun-block has nothing to do with the recommendations of my dermatologist. The thick, costly barrier between us and the sun this sun-block sets up is not medicinal. It’s political. Too political.

When it comes to solar energy production and usage, Florida is clearly not America’s “The Sunshine State,” despite the fact that each day more than enough of the sun’s rays freely enliven our sand dunes and shores, as well as our farms and groves, and our cities and our villages, to provide all of our energy needs. (“Cloudy Germany” is a world leader in solar power. Even Snowy Iowa is ahead of Florida.)

The problem could be that our sun’s prime Provider doesn’t make political contributions. But the folks championing the sun-block political barriers do, and they’re shaping what has become our Democracy of Dollars approach to solar energy.

It’s certainly understandable that the public utility power companies are concerned about business disruption and loss of their heavy investment and profits providing energy to Florida communities. An orderly transition may well be a logical part of any energy transition from fossil fuel to solar should our legislators ever decide to have such a conversation. Germany could provide the role model for how countries successfully move from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to wind and solar – and create a healthy number of jobs in the process.

Of course, before we get to the point of political reality, discussion and compromise, we can expect solar energy opposition from power utilities. That’s part of the political game we play, with chips dropped on the table by political lobbies, funded by political contributions.

Thus, the April 2015 article, In the Sunshine State, Big Energy Blocks Solar, came as no surprise. The article is about a former state representative, Paige Kreegel, who sought to move Florida to become a prime solar energy state. From the article:

But Kreegel soon discovered that his fellow committee members wouldn’t even discuss solar energy, and the fact that he brought it up made him an outcast in Tallahassee. When he walked the halls of the Legislature, other lawmakers would turn around and shut their doors.

“You know how Tallahassee has an in-group and an out-group?” said Kreegel, a physician in Punta Gorda who left the House in 2012. “I didn’t know I was on the outside until I went against the public utilities, and then — holy hell.”

And it should shock no one that the Koch brothers oppose any Florida move to solar energy.

We can ponder, but . . .

BEFORE WE DIG FURTHER INTO THE 2016 FLORIDA POLITICAL ENERGY GAME, for background, let’s consider what George Lakoff, Professor or Linguistics at the University of California, has to say about “framing.” His many books include The Political Mind, Philosophy in the Flesh, and Don’t Think Like an Elephant, where he writes:

Don't Think Like an Elephant

Don’t Think Like an Elephant

“Every word, like elephant, evokes a frame, which can be an image or other kinds of knowledge. . . . Think of framing for ‘relief.’ For there to be relief there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction, and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent relief.

“When the word ‘tax’ is added to relief the result is a metaphor. Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. It is made up of ideas, like affliction and hero. . . . (I)t goes into press releases, goes to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper. . . .

“That is what framing is about. Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary - and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas. . . .

“This is the use of Orwellian language - language that means the opposite of what it says. . . . It’s the kind of Orwellian weakness that causes a piece of legislation that actually increases pollution to be called the Clean Skies Act.”

FLORIDA’S 2016 PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, NOVEMBER 7, 2016 BALLOT.

Last fall, one of the news services I follow ran an article titled, Florida Supreme Court Clears Hurdle Out of the Way For Solar Power to Flourish.

The initiative, promoted by Floridians for Solar Choice was opposed by Florida’s Attorney General, who championed the Florida’s utilities-backed initiative, whose promoters have raised over $7.2 million (including a substantial amount from the energy utilities) to fund their efforts to undercut the Floridians for Solar Choice by promoting an alternative constitutional amendment, offered under the banner, Consumers for Smart Solar. Consumers for Smart Solar got enough signatures to put its proposed amendment on Florida’s 2016 ballot. Floridians for Solar Choice did not.

The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment ballot is titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” and the summary provides:

“This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. 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.”

By a 4 to 3 vote, Florida’s Supreme Court approved the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot language as not being misleading. The dissenters opined:

“Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.” The dissenting judges found “the ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”

The Miami Herald’s report about the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot includes:

“This amendment hoodwinks voters by giving the impression that it will encourage the use of rooftop solar when, in fact, it would do the opposite,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “If the Constitutional amendment passes, people who install rooftop solar could end up with higher utility bills than if they did not have solar.”

What about the framing of the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment title and summary on the ballot?

• Why did the utilities support the amendment if it reduced their business future and income?

• Is its language deceptively Orwellian? Does the amendment really create a new choice for Floridians? How can the amendment establish the right to own solar, since Floridians now have the right? And does the right to charge solar panel users for “backup power,” which is not defined, give the utilities the right to bill as usual, thus resulting in an increased energy cost?

• Is it wise to adopt a Constitutional Amendment that is framed to look like it provides real choice but in reality “constitutionalizes” - freezes for the future - what can be done in the present in a way that prohibits substantive legislative change?

A constitution is intended to frame principles and legislation is meant to frame details. The frustration that led us to the proposed amendments is a sad statement about our legislators refusing to meet their fiduciary responsibilities.

Will Floridians who install solar end up with higher utility bills? (They did in Nevada, after residents signed up for solar on the average of one every 40 minutes, and the utilities lobbied for a change. The end result is that some solar owners pay more than non-solar owners.)

If the amendment does nothing but “constitutionalize” the existing rights of Floridians to install solar on their property, then Florida condominium owners are likely to be out of luck, since putting solar on condo roofs is putting solar on common elements belonging to the association and not to the individual condominium unit owners – and the association wouldn’t have the right to charge (“sell”) energy to the unit owners.

Oregon recently solved the solar problem for condominiums and other group facility owners by authorizing “community solar” systems. That’s something any solar constitutional amendment should provide for Floridians.

Where does that leave us? With the proposed amendment not addressing the needs of multifamily condominiums and associations, and with a ballot amendment that is “clear enough” to four highly trained and literate judges, but not clear enough to three other equally as literate and well-trained judges - and therefore not likely to be clear enough to legally untrained Floridians who have to vote on it - I suggest we vote “no” and go back to the drawing board.

And maybe we need to change the minds of, or replace, a few of our legislators.

______________

There’s another proposed solar amendment that is to be on the August 30, 2016 ballot. That’s a “tax relief” offering that is okay, and worth a “yes” vote.

______________

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