By Michael Auslen

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday approved a constitutional amendment backed by utility companies that would maintain the status quo in how solar energy is regulated.

It will appear on the ballot in November's election as "Amendment 1," and 60 percent of voters must approve it in order for it to go into effect.

Under the proposed amendment -- called Consumers for Smart Solar -- local and state regulators would maintain control over solar energy.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court will allow the people of Florida to have a voice on our amendment to advance solar energy in the Sunshine State," Consumers for Smart Solar co-chair Dick Batchelor said in a written statement. "We look forward to making our case to the people of Florida -- that we must advance solar energy -- and do it the right way -- a way that protects all consumers, whether they choose solar or not."

The solar issue has been a hot one.

The utility-backed group launched after another ballot item was proposed that would have allowed property owners to sign lease agreements with solar companies to finance and install equipment and to potentially sell excess power they generate to neighbors or the utility that services their area. That could have threatened monopolies held by the utilities.

That amendment -- backed by Floridians for Solar Choice -- failed to gather enough signatures to appear on the ballot. They're looking to 2018.

Floridians for Solar Choice was supported by many environmental groups as a way to encourage more alternative energy. Shortly after the Supreme Court's ruling on the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar, environmentalists started to voice their opposition.

"This amendment hoodwinks voters by giving the impression that it will encourage the use of rooftop solar when, in fact, it would do the opposite," said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. "If the Constitutional amendment passes, people who install rooftop solar could end up with higher utility bills than if they did not have solar."

A separate solar power constitutional amendment to give commercial property owners a tax break on solar panels will appear on the August primary ballot.

(c)2016 Miami Herald