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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Solar buffs seek favors in power plan

— As a practical matter, I have no beef with what activist Florida sun worshipers say they are out to achieve: a world in which you could have a solar-electricity array installed on your roof that, besides serving your household needs, your neighbors could tap into as well.

Everyone connected to your mini-grid would pay the installer for their solar power consumption in a familiar lease-to-own arrangement. At the contract’s end, you would own your system and payments to the installer would go away.

So far, so good, right? There’s more.

This scenario appeals in spades to retailers, whose vast roofs otherwise serve only as temporary reservoirs for rainwater and meeting space for seagulls.

Allow — this is the key word, as we shall see — them to top off with solar arrays that not only defray their fossil-fuel power demands but could also supply adjacent businesses (all, again, sharing the repayment costs) and, goes the argument, panels will bloom on every mall and big-box retailer from Pensacola to Key West.

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All that stands between us and this clean-energy nirvana, says Tory Perfetti, owner of a Tampa-based marketing/advertising shop and chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice, is a state law preventing any entity besides an investor-owned power company from delivering electricity.

And because the Legislature is in the pockets of those power companies, Perfetti claims, it is fruitless even to fantasize about getting the law repealed. Never mind, he says, the twin bills knocking around the state Senate sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes. One would reduce state taxes for businesses that install solar power systems. The other, Perfetti notwithstanding, would repeal the unrepealable.

A self-proclaimed free-market, small-government, anti-crony-capitalism conservative, Perfetti expresses no complaint about the tax-reduction plan, but his opposition to Brandes’ other bill is, educationally, ferocious.

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With Brandes’ bill, he predicts, Big Electricity would be under the basket throwing elbows at the heads of upstart solar companies while referees on the Public Service Commission stared at the rafters. Only if small-scale solar power is enshrined in the state constitution will little guys and their potential clients get a fair shake.

Luckily, Perfetti has such a proposal handy, and the other night he pitched its virtues to about 70 members and friends of the Tampa 912 Project, precisely the sort of tea party group that has validated descriptions of supporters as “an unusual coalition” that includes conservatives, libertarians and far-left environmentalists.

Well. Nobody asked the skeptical Tampa 912ers, and, matched against Heartland Institute senior fellow for environmental and energy policy James Taylor, the best Perfetti could manage was a golf clap.

Taylor warned against cost-shifting (utilities would rely on a shrunken customer base to meet non-shrinking operating expenses), mandated preference for solar against other renewables and the probability of subsidies. Nonsense, fabrications and lies, Perfetti replied. Nowhere, he says, does the amendment call for anything like that. He’s right. It doesn’t have to.

The problem lurks no deeper than the first sentence: “It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote ... ” Stop. Right. There. Nothing that follows matters. Once it becomes the state’s constitutional obligation to “encourage and promote” anything, goodies must flow.

As Tampa’s Larry Thornberry wrote for tThe American Spectator, “Any grant writer who couldn’t drive subsidies through this language should probably consider legitimate work.

“Any legislator who couldn’t liberate tax dollars for a connected friend on the basis of this language is either inept or too honest for the room.”

Perfetti’s rejoinder — the second sentence constrains the first — is not compelling. Neither was his dismissiveness: “It’s all legalese.” Does LinkedIn include an endorsement for condescension?

Eighty-five-some-odd years ago, the United States repealed Prohibition and managed to do so without the slightest hint it would be the nation’s policy to “encourage and promote” the production or consumption of distilled spirits. It simply allowed such things to happen. he unshackled market, though hampered by the onset of the Great Depression, took care of the rest.

Similarly, if permission to hook each other up is really all Florida’s solar power worshipers want, it should say so in their amendment. Instead, they’re angling for a limitless supply of favors. Paid for by you.

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