The mood was dark inside Florida’s Capitol this month for those who support solar energy. That’s because the Legislature passed the anti-solar bill, HB 741, which guts the state policy that helps make rooftop solar systems more affordable — net metering.
The bill will be presented to Gov. Ron DeSantis where he can sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without taking action. He should veto it.
Florida’s net-metering policy allows rooftop-solar customers to receive a 1:1 retail-rate credit for any excess power they return to the electrical grid. This credit not only helps offset the cost of electricity they might need at night or on cloudy days, it also helps pay for their solar systems. Better yet, the policy helps power companies reduce their fossil fuel use, transmission line losses and the need for more power plants.
From the start, the anti-solar bill was driven by unvetted information fed to legislators by Florida Power & Light and other investor-owned utilities. They argued that non-solar customers are “subsidizing” the grid because solar customers can lower their power bill through net metering. However, the state agency that regulates power companies, the Public Service Commission (PSC), has made no determination of solar’s costs on any utility’s system. That didn’t matter to the bill’s sponsors. They conceded that no study verifies the utilities’ claims and that any cost was almost non-measurable, given the low penetration of rooftop solar in Florida.
A draft of HB 741 was written by FPL, the state’s largest power company, and filed by legislators in November 2021. A number of customers and organizations urged legislators to study the issue before making arbitrary changes. After all, when requesting rate increases last year, not one of the three biggest utilities identified lost revenue from rooftop solar as a justification.
Besides, as part of its rate case settlement, FPL secured a provision that guarantees that low-energy-use customers, like those with solar, must pay a minimum monthly bill of $25 to cover their fair share of the utility’s fixed costs. Duke negotiated a similar $30 minimum bill provision as part of its rate case settlement.
So if solar customers are already paying their fair share, why are utilities, which are granted a monopoly in Florida, going after them again?
This is no way to make energy policy, especially one poised to decimate the adoption of rooftop solar, destroy thousands of jobs and deny energy freedom to over 8 million Florida families and businesses.
HB 741 says those who already have rooftop solar systems — or have one installed soon — will get a 20-year grandfather grace period from the date the system was installed. But for everyone else, it eliminates the 1:1 retail credit on Dec. 31, 2023. Each year, the rate will ratchet down until 2029, when solar customers will get the utility’s wholesale rate, effectively gutting the value proposition for rooftop solar. This will lead to fewer people being able to afford solar systems and consequently, the loss of thousands of jobs.
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Let’s be clear, rooftop solar doesn’t raise power bills. It’s the investment in assets — like power plants and related fuel costs — that drive higher bills. For instance, this year FPL is passing $810 million in higher fossil fuel costs on to families and businesses, forcing some customers to choose between paying a power bill and putting food on the table.
Net metering provides a choice for customers — including a growing percentage of low- to middle-income customers — to lower their electrical bills. The proposed changes will put solar choice out of reach for hard-working families and small businesses.
The governor should stand with Floridians and veto the anti-solar bill. Let’s embrace clean energy policies that support jobs, lower bills and energy freedom — not kill them at the behest of monopoly utilities.
George Cavros, legal counsel for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, advocates for meaningful energy efficiency programs and renewable energy development in Florida. “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.