A new attack is building on the solar industry: the extreme reduction or eliminating net metering benefits (the credits earned by solar adopters for energy sent to the grid from solar power) by electric co-ops throughout Florida. Unlike the major utilities, such as FP&L, Duke Energy and the Florida Municipal Power Agency, co-ops do not need to seek state approval for their billing policies.
It is no secret that Florida utilities would prefer to continue their monopoly over our state’s energy sector. They have worked collectively and diligently to achieve that dominance. The solar industry, in particular, has continued to face severe challenges in Florida due to the political power of the utilities and their influence over state energy policy.
Florida earned itself a grade of “F” from the Center for Biological Diversity in its 2016 study, Throwing Shade: 10 Sunny States Blocking Distributed Solar Development. Our state is ranked in the top three states in the country for solar potential but we are 14th for installed capacity. This is due to legislation that prohibits third-party ownership of solar panels (Florida is one of only seven states in the entire country that explicitly bans this), unfriendly interconnection laws – requirements to connect solar panels to the utility grid – which make the process of installing solar panels harder, weak net metering policies, and no renewable portfolio standards, which require utilities to generate a certain percentage of total output through renewable means.
In our region, Peace River Electric Cooperative (PRECO) in July 2017 reduced the credit for solar power sent back to the grid to less than half of the retail cost of electricity. And, in October, the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) board approved its new solar program, which cuts the net metering rate from ~10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to just 3.25 cents. (Click HERE for more.)
Put simply, the utility companies are putting a damper on distributed (rooftop) solar by dramatically reducing the financial benefits of going solar. While some consumers might consider only the environmental benefit when making the decision about solar power, most are concerned about the return on investment. With the reductions in net metering rates, the financial returns are diminished, sometimes significantly extending the time it takes for the solar system to pay for itself.
This pattern of eliminating consumer choice when it comes to power is nothing new in Florida. But eliminating net metering strikes a blow against all of us because it endangers the many benefits that come from distributed solar, including increased energy security and storm resiliency, local high-skill job creation, individual and community-wide economic benefit and wealth retention, and a direct reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to sea level rise (this is so important to coastal Florida!)
Brilliant Harvest and other area solar contractors are developing strategies to overcome this latest barrier to the growth of rooftop solar in Florida. We hope to persuade the power co-ops to reinstate viable net metering programs. In the meantime, we wanted to inform you of the continued challenges facing solar in our state; please contact your elected officials, tell them what is happening and urge them to support full and fair net metering here in the “Sunshine State.”
Keep reading: Understanding net metering