Sunshine State Solar Industry Fighting Onslaught From Koch Brothers in Florida

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With its nickname “The Sunshine State,” it would make sense for Florida to lead in solar energy in the United States. But industry opposition and a climate change-denying governor have allowed the state to fall dangerously behind when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun.

Today, solar energy only accounts for 2% of the total energy production in Florida, and industry analysts believe that the poor solar production is likely because the state’s average energy costs are about 30% below the national average, diminishing the demand for a cheaper, cleaner energy source.

But when you dig past the industry’s talking points and excuses, you’ll find something much more sinister at work.

The low solar production in Florida has less to do with energy costs, and everything to do with the influence of the dirty energy industry.

According to existing Florida laws, which are unfairly skewed in favor of electric utilities, consumers are limited in their abilities to install solar panels on their own homes due to the restriction of solar panel equipment leasing in the state. In short, consumers in Florida are legally not allowed to purchase electricity from anyone other than a utility company.

Additionally, Governor Rick Scott and the Republican legislature have gutted the state’s clean energy programs and eliminated Florida’s renewable energy goals.

Again, it all comes down to money.

Since 2010, the dirty energy industry has poured $12 million into state elections and initiatives, including a $1.1 million gift to Rick Scott. Every single member of the state’s leadership in the legislature has taken money from the fossil fuel industry, with the 16 leaders averaging about $200,000 apiece. Some of the top donors were Duke Energy, Gulf Power, and Koch Industries.

Koch Brothers’ Anti-Solar Campaign in Florida

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Koch brothers are leading the efforts to stifle solar energy in Florida.

When citizens in the state gathered the necessary signatures to get an initiative on the ballot that would repeal Florida’s anti-consumer solar restrictions, the Koch brothers sprang into action to make sure that this initiative was dead on arrival.

According to a report by PR Watch, the Kochs created a new astroturf group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” that is working to create a counter-initiative that would actually prohibit consumers and businesses from contracting with solar companies that install solar equipment without charging an upfront fee — the only way that most Florida citizens would be able to afford solar energy.

This ballot initiative is supported by the Florida state government, as Florida’s attorney general Pam Bondi is very vocal in her opposition to the citizens’ amendment due to her strong support for the dirty energy industry.

The Kochs and other industry interests were dealt a major blow last week, when the Florida Supreme Court approved the Solar Choice Amendment to appear on the 2016 ballot.

Also working against the industry is the fact that 2016 is an election year, meaning Democratic voter turnout will be at an all time high, giving the initiative a very good chance at succeeding.

But even if the Florida fight goes in favor of consumers, the Koch brothers are also fighting against the solar industry in Arizona, Ohio, and Kansas.

Again, these are likely to ultimately prove losing battles for the brothers, as 74% of American citizens believe that a portion of all electricity generated in the United States should come from clean, renewable sources.

The Kochs might wield a lot of power, but they don’t have enough money to fight the will of the 74%, or 235 million, Americans.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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