Florida Utility Companies Lobby to Change Solar Net Metering Rule

A large home in Venice, Florida, USA is shown with 42 solar panels installed on the roof on March 9, 2020. Photo and Caption : Kent E. Roberts/Shutterstock.com

Solar is growing rapidly in Florida partly because state law requires investor-owned utilities to offer expedited interconnection agreements to those who install solar panels. Over 16,000 Floridians emailed the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), urging it not to change Florida’s net program, which offers incentives for installing rooftop solar panels and credits customers for the extra renewable energy they produce. Representatives for four of the state’s largest investor-owned utilities gave presentations during the workshop on why they want net metering rolled back and want to renegotiate interconnection agreements with solar users. On September 17, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) held a workshop to review the state’s net metering rule’s status.

Florida’s investor-owned utilities have attacked rooftop solar policies in the past. In 2016, they spent over $20 million on a failed effort to pass a deceptive ballot initiative, Amendment 1, which purported to support rooftop solar, but would have paved the way for more restrictions and fees on solar customers.

Net metering is the policy that compensates rooftop solar owners at the retail rate for the energy they produce and sell to the grid. 

Florida is one of 47 states that allows residential and commercial customers who generate their electricity from solar power to sell the electricity they aren’t using back into the grid. Advocacy groups, including representatives from Vote Solar, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Solar Energy Industries Association, argued that net metering saves money and promotes economic development.

Florida’s net metering policies have been in place in Florida since 2008. Under Florida law, the PSC has administration and implementation authority, and rooftop solar advocates viewed the rule-making docket’s potential opening to be a direct attack on rooftop solar for the state.

Of the over 20 million people in Florida, only 0.05% are currently enrolled in net metering, or approximately 60,000 customers, as reported by the PSC in 2019. The Commission reaffirmed its support of the current net metering policy in 2019, calling it “an effective means of encouraging the development of demand-side renewable energy systems that allow participants to offset their energy usage.”

Utilities said their customers pay about $39 million a year in infrastructure costs that solar users would have paid for. This also hurts low-income customers who shoulder these costs but can’t afford solar power.

Florida Representative Lawrence McClure asked the Florida PSC to review the rules and regulations related to customer-owned solar and net metering. The request, which McClure made on May 22, echoes utility claims that rooftop solar is a threat to low to middle-income Floridians. McClure attached to his request an anti-rooftop solar document produced by Energy Fairness, a utility front group. 

Duke Energy has the highest rate of solar-generated power use, with 1.18% of customers net metering. Tampa Electric (0.7%), Gulf Power (0.5%) and Florida Power & Light (0.35%) also have growing solar contingencies. Utilities said increasing solar use requires them to upgrade equipment that provides power to homes, an expense they pass along to customers who are essentially subsidizing improvements from which  they don’t benefit.

To learn more, please visit the Public Service Commission website.