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Could selling leftover power become legal?

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A dust-up between solar advocates and a state senator is erupting on the eve of the annual legislative session. The fight is a window into the often unintended consequences in state politics. At the center is legislation that would allow greater use of solar resources, but advocates worry utilities could end up being the big winners.

Campaign records show that Florida Power and Light gave more than $1 million to the Republican Party of Florida last year. Duke Energy contributed just over $250,000 to the RPOF. The totals don't count contributions to individual legislators. 

Under Florida law, only regulated utilities can see electricity usage. The regulation has thwarted stores like Publix, which want to install solar panels on their rooftops, then sell what power they don't use to stores next door. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has drafted legislation that would allow that.

"It's something that I think is the right policy for the state of Florida. It shouldn't be illegal to sell power," Brandes said.

But a part of Brandes' bill has the solar community upset. The bill would allow utilities to "recover the full actual cost of providing services," which some said would allow utilities to hike the rate for connecting a business to the grid.

Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said she is hoping that the bill is withdrawn.

"We don't want something that's going to put onerous charges on people who want to put solar up," Glickman said.

Her group is also part of a coalition circulating petitions.

The proposed constitutional amendment allows the sale of excess solar power, but it makes no mention of utilities being able to charge more for a hookup.

"We think the ballot measure is a clear shot to getting the kind of policy that they have in other states," Glickman said. "Again, we are one of only five states that don't allow this."

That fact that the fight is happening in the public is a testament to how far clean energy advocates have been able to advance their legislative priorities in what has been a utility-dominated arena.