Florida not learning its lesson on renewable energy

This spring, state lawmakers will consider legislation that would help to equip Florida schools with solar energy systems. One bill, which would allow schools to negotiate power purchase agreements with renewable energy providers, would drastically reduce startup costs and rapidly expand renewables deployment in Florida. But the bill looks to fail – as other pro-renewable-related legislation has failed before. Why? Because of the powerful energy lobby and its continued sway over the Florida legislature.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar power purchase agreement is “a financial agreement where a developer arranges for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar energy system on a customer’s property at little to no cost. The developer sells the power generated to the host customer at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s retail rate. This lower electricity price serves to offset the customer’s purchase of electricity from the grid while the developer receives the income from these sales of electricity as well as any tax credits and other incentives generated from the system.”

With the passage of the power purchase agreement legislation, the state, counties, cities, school districts, and thousands of nonprofits would have a “less than the cost of grid electricity” option for their renewable energy.

There are numerous other benefits:
• The transition to clean, renewable energy would help with municipal sustainability goals;
• Solar is an industry that creates thousands of local, high-paying jobs; and
• Solar can increase grid resiliency when combined with energy storage, stabilizing the grid during normal operations.

But the utilities have a legislatively-sanctioned lock on the energy market in Florida. Under state rules, FPL, Duke Energy, and the other utilities are allowed profit from solar, while preventing everyone else from receiving those same benefits.

What’s ironic is that these same utilities – who, just a few years ago, claimed that solar doesn’t work in cloudy weather (note: it does) – are installing millions of solar panels, while working to prevent anyone and everyone else from profiting from them.

We’re used to being disappointed by our legislators, when it comes to forward-thinking energy solutions. But we are especially disheartened that even the lobbyist who represents the Sarasota County School Board won’t go to bat for local schools – including the students at Riverview High School, who have been reaching out to area principals and School Board members, advocating for the bill.

There is literally NO DOWNSIDE to allowing Floridians to make their own energy choices – competition is essential to a free market and results in innovation and competitive pricing. The only entities benefiting from the suppression of the right to distribute energy more widely are the utilities.

If you would like to express your thoughts on this issue, here are some folks you can contact:

Contact your Florida State Senator

Contact your Florida State Representative

Sarasota County School Board
Phone: (941) 927-9000, ext. 31147
Email all School Board members: schoolboardmembers@sarasotacountyschools.net
Shirley Brown, Chair: shirley.brown@sarasotacountyschools.net
Jane Goodwin, Vice-Chair: jane.goodwin@sarasotacountyschools.net
Tom Edwards: thomas.edwards@sarasotacountyschools.net
Karen Rose: karen.rose@sarasotacountyschools.net
Bridget Ziegler: bridget.ziegler@sarasotacountyschools.net
Kathy Tomkins, Administrative Assistant: kathy.tomkins@sarasotacountyschools.net

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