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Guest Column
Rooftop solar on schools makes sense, but power companies want to pull the plug | Column
Energy is the second-biggest expense for Florida schools — big bucks for power companies.
A look at the solar panels being installed by Duke Energy in the parking lot at John Hopkins Middle School, 701 16th St S, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in St. Petersburg. The panels provide power when the school serves as a special needs emergency shelter. This microgrid can provide 50 hours of support to the emergency shelter. There will be total of 3.5 megawatts available for use — one is from solar, and 2.5 megawatts is in the storage containers.
A look at the solar panels being installed by Duke Energy in the parking lot at John Hopkins Middle School, 701 16th St S, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in St. Petersburg. The panels provide power when the school serves as a special needs emergency shelter. This microgrid can provide 50 hours of support to the emergency shelter. There will be total of 3.5 megawatts available for use — one is from solar, and 2.5 megawatts is in the storage containers. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 27

Last April, Miami Dade County Public Schools adopted a resolution calling for the use of 100% clean energy by 2030. Seven months later, monopoly utilities began pushing for state legislation that would destroy opportunities for rooftop solar. State lawmakers are debating this issue right now — and our schools’ precious resources hang in the balance.

Michele Drucker
Michele Drucker [ Provided ]

Florida schools spend over a half billion dollars each year on electricity. Energy costs are their second-biggest expense. In Miami-Dade, the school district is one of the top five energy consumers.

Schools can no longer afford to ignore the energy-producing potential of their spacious rooftops. Fully transitioning to rooftop solar by 2030, combined with simple energy-efficiency strategies, could save Miami-Dade schools $100 million every year, as one example.

The bill, SB 1024/HB 741, filed by Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Lawrence McClure, would destroy the immense benefits that rooftop solar offers all Floridians. That’s because it would effectively eliminate net metering — a vital policy to rooftop solar that exists in almost every state.

Net metering allows homeowners to return their excess solar energy back to the grid to offset their own energy use, through a one-to-one credit on their energy bill. The utility provider controls this excess energy and can resell it to other customers. But that’s not good enough for them.

The massive utility operators want to gut this benefit and give customers credit for just a fraction of the excess energy they send back to the grid. Customer-owned solar makes up less than 0.5% of all energy produced in the state, yet some utilities are crying foul about the “fairness” of net metering because they see people taking their energy needs into their own hands as a threat to their monopolies.

As vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools 100% Clean Energy Task Force, I am an advocate for affordable clean energy. Rooftop solar on schools can significantly reduce energy costs and shift limited resources into the classroom, where they can benefit Florida’s 3 million public school students, including 340,000 in Miami-Dade.

On-site solar can also provide learning opportunities, introducing students to clean-energy career pathways. Florida’s solar industry supports tens of thousands of local jobs and adds over $18 billion in economic value. We should be promoting these clean energy jobs for future generations.

This attack on net metering would stifle the scaling of solar projects on schools. Even worse, it would box them into huge increases on their electric bills, pulling precious resources away from classroom instruction and teacher salaries.

Let’s support students, and let’s oppose SB 1024 and HB 741.

Michele Drucker is vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Clean Energy Task Force and Environmental Chair of the Miami-Dade County Council Parent-Teacher Association. “The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state, including the Tampa Bay Times, focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.

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