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Aggressive rooftop solar proposal clears key legal hurdle

Aggressive rooftop solar proposal clears key legal hurdle
SolarCity employees Jarret Esposito, left, and Jake Torwatzky install solar panels on a home in south Denver. SolarCity is one of the nation's largest installers of rooftop solar systems. (Ed Andrieski / Associated Press)

One of the nation's most aggressive rooftop solar initiatives has cleared a critical hurdle.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday approved a ballot initiative that would deregulate a growing sector of the electricity industry in that state.

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The proposed ballot initiative by Floridians for Solar Choice – an unusual grass-roots coalition of Tea Party and Christian Coalition conservatives, Libertarians, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and others – would allow rooftop solar owners to sell power directly to other consumers under virtually any circumstance.

Currently, only utilities can sell power directly to consumers in Florida.

If successful, the initiative would surpass even the rooftop solar regulations in California, the nation's leader by far in electricity generated from the sun. The grass-roots effort challenges investor-owned utilities' control of electricity, which could help reshape the future of power generation across the country.

Utilities nationwide, in particular in California, are grappling with the impact the growing rooftop solar industry is having on their business model. That model has relied on centralized power rather than homeowners and businesses generating their own electricity.

"We are thrilled with the high court's ruling so that voters may have the opportunity to vote on removing a barrier that currently blocks Florida's families and businesses from greater energy choices through the power of the free market," said Tory Perfetti, chairman, Floridians for Solar Choice.

"People power is what will get us on the ballot, and we continue to gather thousands of signatures each week from Floridians eager for solar choice."

The coalition still must collect 683,149 verified signatures on petitions by Feb. 1, 2016, to get the initiative onto the 2016 ballot.

The group has 183,000 verified signatures to date, with 100,000 more awaiting certification by elections officials. At least 60% of voters must vote in favor of the initiative to pass it.

"This is a huge victory for the people and businesses of Florida who want to freely choose the companies that will provide them clean solar power in a cost-effective manner," said Stephen Smith, executive director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Twitter: @ivanlpenn

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