On Sept. 17, solar energy advocates scored a major victory at the Florida Public Service Commission, when commissioners opted not to give in to a new utility ploy meant to undermine the expansion of customer rooftop solar throughout the state.
Conservation Voters and our energy allies submitted more than 15,000 comments to the PSC. THANK YOU to everyone who took action!
One of the chief policies our state uses to encourage the expansion of rooftop solar is called “net metering.” Net metering refers to the billing practice that allows residential and commercial solar power producers to send excess power they generate but don’t use back into the electric grid. Their extra solar energy can then supply nearby consumers while the small solar producer receives credits, which they can use to reduce their overall electric bill.
Major utilities do not like net metering. Florida’s large utilities are obligated to provide net metering programs under laws passed in 2008 with the explicit goal of expanding rooftop solar. Customer-owned solar panels are a threat not only to their profits but to their total control of the electric grid. That’s why they’ve invested millions in trying to undermine net metering over the years.
Utilities claim that current net metering policies force them to pay too much to customers who produce solar electricity, driving prices up for other customers. This is a complete distortion of reality, for two reasons. First, the utilities do not factor the many benefits of distributed energy on promoting grid efficiency, resilience, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Second, studies of net metering policies show that they do not result in increased prices. In fact, if rooftop solar provided the energy for 2.5% of all energy sales, rates would increase by only one tenth of a percent (0.1%). Right now, rooftop solar accounts for approximately 0.1% of sales. The rate would have to be over twenty-five times greater than it is today before we even get to a tenth of a percent increase in rates.
Florida’s monopoly utilities have shown, time and again, that they are willing to use misinformation and distortion tactics. They spent $30 million in 2016 on a “shady solar” amendment designed to trick voters into undermining net metering and customer-owned solar. Fortunately, solar advocates and activists like you have helped to shine a light on these shady schemes.
The public didn’t fall for their schemes, and neither should lawmakers. In fact, to address the climate crisis harming Florida, lawmakers must stand up against attacks on net metering and adopt policies to expand solar energy.
Distributed rooftop solar is possibly our most important tool for expanding solar energy as a component of the overall grid. Each megawatt of solar power production requires approximately four acres to produce, and this land cannot be used for other sources. Distributed solar allows us to tap into the many acres of unused space on roofs and in private parking lots. What’s more, distributing power generation capacity throughout the urban landscape will be a massive boon to efficiency and resilience of the grid by allowing buildings to be self-sustaining in the wake of storms and blackouts, and by eliminating the 5-10% of energy lost in the process of transmitting energy from utility-owned generators.
Customer-owned renewable solar generation has grown quickly in recent years, but we’re still lagging far behind many other states with less than 1% of households using solar. However, due to falling prices for solar panels and installation, new financing mechanisms, and solar-friendly policies, that could be due to change rapidly.
In order to limit global warming to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must transition to a fully renewable energy-based economy by 2050. We’re far behind that goal here in Florida. Our grid is currently only 3% renewable, with 81% of our energy coming from dirty fossil fuels. Solar energy is one of the cleanest and most abundant power sources available, and here in the Sunshine State our capacity to take advantage of this abundant resource is immense.
Thanks again for taking action! This fight is far from over. To continue to protect net metering and our state’s growing solar industry, please continue to engage with the Public Service Commission, be ready to see and respond to the utilities’ next attempt to undermine net metering in the 2021 legislative session, and share this blog with your friends, family members, and fellow Conservation Voters.