- Associated Press - Monday, December 21, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A ballot initiative seeking to increase the amount of solar power generated in Florida by allowing businesses to sell sun power directly to consumers is unlikely to qualify for the 2016 ballot, supporters said.

Floridians for Solar Choice, a group of improbable allies including tea party members and environmentalists, said they’re still tens of thousands of signatures shy of qualifying for next year’s ballot. The due date for verified signatures is Feb. 1.

The group says its signature-gathering efforts will continue into the 2018 election cycle if they’re unable to pull it together by the deadline.

The proposed amendment, opposed by many of Florida’s utilities, would keep government from regulating small solar power suppliers that generate up to two megawatts of power. It would allow solar firms that lease panels to homeowners to sell that power to the homeowner - right now that business model is illegal in Florida.

“Whether we qualify this proposal for 2016 or 2018, we will continue to fight for the people of this state so that all of us have more choices when it comes to how we get our energy,” Tory Perfetti, Floridians for Solar Choice’s chairman, said in a news release.

The more than 271,000 valid signatures gathered so far are good for 24 months, and it has another 212,000 gathered that still need to be validated.

A total of 683,149 signatures are needed to qualify for the ballot.

A second, utility-backed solar initiative called Consumers for Smart Solar has out-raised the solar choice campaign, raising nearly $6 million. The main donors, according to state campaign contributions records, are Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light Co. and Tampa Electric Co.

Floridians for Solar Choice raised about $2 million, much of it from individuals.

The utility-backed initiative would largely leave things as they are - consumers with solar panels can sell back to the utility but not each other. Consumers for Smart Solar said they’d gathered more than 400,000 signatures.

“From Day One, our objective has been to promote a plan to advance solar energy while protecting consumers. (The Solar Choice campaign’s) apparent failure to make the ballot does not change our objective,” Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for Consumers for Smart Solar, said in an email.

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