Florida power company pushing legislation that would gut home solar

Over the weekend I wrote about the moves by the California Public Utilities Commission to gut the inducements to install solar panels on your existing home. If they pass next month, the changes would create a monthly tax on solar panels and drastically reduce the amount that customers receive for selling excess power back to the grid (which is called Net Metering).

Today, the Guardian reports something very similar is happening in Florida but in this case the power company, Florida Power & Light (FPL), pushed their proposal through a Republican state senator:

Internal emails obtained from the Florida Senate show that an FPL lobbyist, John Holley, sent the text of the bill to state senator Jennifer Bradley’s staff on 18 October. FPL’s parent company contributed $10,000 to Bradely’s political committee on 20 October. A month later, Bradley filed a bill that was almost identical to the one FPL gave her. Another lawmaker introduced the same measure in the House.

Bradley said the donation was unrelated to the bill.

Uh, okay, sure it wasn’t. As is the case in California, the argument coming from the public utilities is that people who install rooftop solar aren’t paying fir their fair share of the electricity grid:

Nationwide, power companies are feeling pressured by the rise of distributed renewable energy. Rooftop solar, while critical to fighting climate change, is a threat to the traditional utility business model. Electricity companies like FPL make money off of the things they build: mainly large power plants and lines that bring that energy to customers. They don’t make money off of solar power generated from rooftops…

Under the bill, customers whose solar panels deliver energy back to the grid would be compensated less, at wholesale rather than retail rates. Utilities could also charge rooftop solar customers more by adding in facility charges, grid access fees and minimum monthly payments. Customers already using rooftop solar power before 2023 would be grandfathered in and keep previous compensation rates for 10 years…

FPL says its 24,000 net-metering customers cost the company $30m in 2020, or about $1,250 per customer. Utility experts have testified to Florida regulators that rooftop solar in the state could grow at 39% a year until 2025 if the current net-metering system is left in place. Such growth has the utilities and legislators worried.

So the utility company is claiming that every solar install that sells excess power back to them costs them about $1,250 per year which works out to about $100 per month. But that’s the whole point of installing your own power generation on the roof. You pay for the equipment rather than paying the utility company. Now the utilities and their unions are saying that’s not fair to people who are stuck paying.

Personally, I’ve got nothing against utility workers but as a customer I shouldn’t be forced to pay for the cost of transmitting energy I’m no longer using. You should be able to walk away from the utility company if it makes financial sense to do so.

This effort to kill rooftop solar isn’t about fairness or equity. This is about public utilities worrying about their customer base disappearing. In Florida, homes using net metering are only about 1 percent of the total but if that doubles or triples over the next few years, it becomes a problem for utilities. So if it’s a choice between killing off the solar installation companies in the state or letting their own budgets decline and force layoffs, that’s an easy choice for the utilities.