Don’t let big utilities gut Florida’s solar market | Column
“Families save on energy bills, but electric companies make less money. They don’t like that,” writes Mike Morina, executive director of the Florida Home Partnership.
Solar panels on a Brandon office building.
Solar panels on a Brandon office building.
Published Sept. 15, 2020

An important meeting of the Public Service Commission this week could have serious implications for the future of solar energy in Florida, especially for working families. Having spent over 25 years developing affordable housing, I understand the struggles many families face. Deciding between groceries and keeping the lights on is a choice no one should have to make.

Mike Morina,  executive director of the Florida Home Partnership
Mike Morina, executive director of the Florida Home Partnership [ Courtesy of the Florida Home Partnership ]

At Florida Home Partnership, we have built over 1,000 affordable homes for low-income families in Hillsborough County since 1993. Recently we have incorporated energy-efficient building techniques like spray foam and Insulated Concrete Forms that allow the homes to be classified as net-zero energy ready. That means the homes are so efficient that adding a renewable energy system like solar can offset all or most of the annual energy use.

Thanks to solar panels, the electric bills on some of our newly built homes should be easily manageable — that is if the fair net metering rules we have in Florida stay in place.

Right now, Florida’s net metering policy allows solar homeowners to receive a credit for electricity that is sent back to the grid, similar to rollover minutes on a cell phone. Utility companies take that rooftop solar energy and sell it to other customers. Florida has room for growth on solar; there are fewer than 60,000 net-metered systems in the state. As solar grows, it helps avoid the need to build expensive power plants, making it a win-win for everyone.

Solar power is becoming accessible to more people and is gaining popularity. When families put solar panels on their roofs, they save on energy bills, but electric companies make less money. They don’t like that.

In January, a utility front group called Energy Fairness issued a report claiming that net metering is unfair to ratepayers. This argument has been tried before and it failed miserably. In 2016, Florida voters soundly rejected Amendment 1, a utility-backed measure to limit rooftop solar expansion. Despite losing in the democratic process, the utility companies are at it again — trying to go through the back door under the cover of a pandemic when people are distracted.

The Public Service Commission — the agency that regulates utilities — put a workshop on the agenda for Thursday where they could decide to roll back net metering. This is an attempt by big power companies to change the rules to boost their profits and stifle solar in Florida.

The argument against net metering does not hold water. That’s why I’m speaking up. I know what it means to help those in need, and changing the rules to discourage clean energy, at a time when people are not paying attention, is just wrong.

Investing in energy efficiency was the first thing I did when I wanted to do more to help low-income families. At Florida Home Partnership, we believe in the power of innovation, adaptation, and new technologies. Instead of raising the bar, and embracing clean, distributed energy, which is good for our health, and good for the planet, the utilities are trying to hold back the change.

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I encourage the Public Service Commission to reject the flawed argument made by the utilities and maintain Florida’s fair net metering rules.

Mike Morina is the Executive Director of the Florida Home Partnership, a non-profit, certified affordable home builder based in Hillsborough County.