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Guest Column
The attempt to stifle Florida’s booming solar industry is an attack on consumers | Column
Bills that would change how ‘net-metering’ works in Florida would harm consumers, the economy and the environment.
 
The authors argue that SB1024 and companion HB741 are an attack on Florida's solar industry and Floridians' rights as consumers to invest in cheaper electricity via rooftop solar.
The authors argue that SB1024 and companion HB741 are an attack on Florida's solar industry and Floridians' rights as consumers to invest in cheaper electricity via rooftop solar.
Published Feb. 15, 2022

Solar is already the cheapest new source of electricity, which is why the solar industry is booming in Florida, across the nation and around the globe. The economic and social benefits of solar adoption, both direct and indirect, are profound and getting better every year as costs continue to decline and industry learning curves improve. Yet the Florida Legislature is considering bills this session, SB1024 and companion HB741, that we believe are an attack on our state’s solar industry and our rights as consumers to invest in cheaper electricity via rooftop solar.

Dave Sillman
Dave Sillman [ Provided ]

These bills propose changes to net metering — the regulation that compensates solar customers for the excess electricity they send to the power grid — that would dramatically lower the fair market rate solar customers now receive. If passed, these bills would decimate Florida’s burgeoning residential and commercial solar industry and result in the loss of many solar businesses, thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in projects and investment in local communities, and multi-millions of dollars in energy savings (otherwise known as “returns on investment”), just as it has in other states that have slashed net metering in recent years.

Sarah Matthes Edwards
Sarah Matthes Edwards [ Provided ]

A recent study by Conservatives for Clean Energy Florida found that rooftop solar creates $18.3 billion in economic impact for Florida. They identified more than 400 solar businesses and more than 40,000 solar jobs in our state and concluded: “Solar energy serves as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation in the state.” Policies that threaten our solar industry are economic self-sabotage.

Unsurprisingly, these bills were authored by lobbyists and push the idea that solar customers are somehow “subsidized” by non-solar customers. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, 16 state-level studies have disproven this cost-shift argument, as has a national study by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and others. In fact, much analysis shows quite the opposite. In one study Joshua Pearce, endowed professor of Materials Science & Engineering and professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Michigan Technological University shows that grid-tied solar owners are actually subsidizing their non-solar neighbors. “Anyone who puts up solar is being a great citizen for their neighbors and for their local utility,” Pearce said.

Here is just a partial list of how solar customers add value to the grid for everybody through avoided:

* Wear and tear on the grid.

* Fuel usage (putting downward pressure on fuel prices).

* Need for new power plants and transmission.

* Line loss (electricity lost in transmission).

* Use of peaker plants (standby generators used when loads peak, which are the most expensive part of utility operations and our bills).

Then there’s the real “cost shift”: the eye-popping sums we now incur from carbon and methane pollution, which are warming the planet and causing more extreme weather events ($145 billion in damage in 2021), along with massive health costs from air pollution. (In the United States alone, it is $600 billion in economic losses annually.)

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Florida should be leading the nation in solar, but sadly the Sunshine State is hostage to a government-granted monopoly that inherently works at cross purposes to innovation and incentivizes investor-owned utilities to block our solar rights. This helps explain why the utility industry spends less than any other on research and development but ranks fourth in lobbying spend. Attacking net metering is a naked attempt to fend off competition from a young industry that is, for the first time in more than a century, disrupting their business model with distributed, local, democratized energy. Don’t think we don’t see you.

We expect our elected leaders to pave the way for Florida’s success in this exciting and growing sector of our economy — not to shoot the industry (and by extension, all power customers) in the foot. We urge our elected representatives to stop this assault on what should be the Sunshine State’s economic crown jewel.

You can help stop SB 1024/HB 741 by writing your legislators at savesolar.org/fl.

Dave Sillman is the Clean Energy Committee Chair of the Suncoast Sierra Club. Sarah Matthes Edwards is a climate activist in Tampa.