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Lawsuit alleges utilities intentionally attempted to deceive court, withholding facts on solar amendment

Using new information that came from a leaked audio recording, solar industry advocates on Wednesday filed two legal actions aimed at asking the Florida Supreme Court to disqualify the outcome of Amendment 1 voting because of revelations they claim are proof that Florida’s electric utility industry intentionally attempted to deceive voters.

"Consumers for Smart Solar, Inc., the amendment’s proponents, affirmatively withheld relevant and material information as to the objective and intended purpose of the amendment, and thereby misled this Court (and is now misleading the public) as to the adequacy of the ballot title and summary presented to the voters,''  the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and Floridians for Solar Choice, the pro-solar political committee opposing the amendment, wrote in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. Read our full story here.

The groups ask the court to reopen the case involving the the ballot language used in the proposed Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot and declare it unconstitutionally misleading.

Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for the political committee backed by the utilities, Consumers for Smart Solar, dismissed the lawsuit as “political grandstanding at its best to deter Florida voters from voting in favor of Amendment 1.” She repeated the industry claim that the amendment “simply safeguards consumer rights, consumer protection and consumer fairness as we grow solar in Florida.”

The lawsuit cites a report in the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times that quotes Sal Nuzzo, the policy director and vice president at Tallahassee think tank supported by the utility industry, calling Amendment 1 "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that attempt to deceive voters into supporting restrictions on the expansion of solar by shrouding it as a pro-solar amendment.

With more than four million voters having already cast their ballots, the groups filed a second lawsuit asking the court to order Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to embargo the counting of votes cast for Amendment 1 until the court rules on the allegations.

“This is an insurance policy. It’s not a sign we’re going to lose,” said Stephen A. Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an organizing force behind the solar industry’s campaign to oppose Amendment 1. “We’ve had so many people come to us and say they were deceived — people who have already voted, people who are confused by it — and they have asked us to take legal action.”

Florida law requires that the Supreme Court review all ballot initiatives to determine if the language is fair and not misleading. The court initially ruled on a 4-3 vote in March that the language was not misleading based on the arguments provided by the lawyers for the utilities.

In an a strongly worded dissent, Justice Barbara Pariente disagreed, calling the ballot language “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” because it is “masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative.”

Recent polls show that Amendment 1 may be falling short of the 60 percent of the vote needed to become law.  Download Solar lawsuits  Download Solar Mandamus lawsuit