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Solar advocates, utilities face off over net metering legislation

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Orlando is among fewer than a dozen local governments across Florida to commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Photo by Amy Green

In Tallahassee, lawmakers are considering legislation that utilities say is aimed at equalizing energy costs for solar and non-solar customers.

Clean energy advocates say the legislation would diminish financial incentives for rooftop solar. WMFE environmental reporter Amy Green talked with Ben Millar of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association. 

GREEN: The legislation involves net metering, a billing arrangement aimed at compensating solar customers for extra energy they share with the grid. This legislation would revise that compensation program. Ben Millar, in what way?

MILLAR: Yeah, I think what’s important here for Floridians to understand is that this bill affects their choice of where to get their energy, right?

We like to say that we’re the freest state, but this actually stops that. Solar really does help people from all income levels because of the kind of financing that are available, the pricing that has come down. We see that even in FPL territory, that 33% of the people make less than $50,000 of household income.

So this bill really has come about because utilities have realized that people now have a choice, and they’re here to stop that choice, right? And that’s kind of what this bill does.

Not only does it undervalue your contribution to the grid, if you make any. It also enables the utilities to slap a fee, a flat fee, which is essentially a tax on solar.

GREEN: Okay, so the legislation primarily would affect customers of Florida’s investor-owned utilities, and that’s Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Florida Public Utilities. How would central Floridians be affected?

MILLAR: While this bill directly looks to IOUs, many of the state’s municipalities follow the same types of programs that they have available. So when you now change that law, many municipalities would feel that they now have the freedom to change that as well.

GREEN: How many solar customers are there in Florida, and how does the state compare with other states when it comes to solar energy? And how common is legislation like this?

MILLAR: There’s quite a few solar homeowners. But that actually pales in comparison to how many homeowners are in the state, and it’s actually only 0.55% of homeowners have solar. So that’s the penetration, 0.55%. So less than 1%.

Compared to other states, we’re lagging majorly behind states, like California, for instance. And that’s partly because their rules were set up to incentivize solar early on. There are a lot of things going in their direction that enabled solar, and they also had financing programs that were available to them early on.

With that being the case. It is the second-fastest-growing jobs creator in the country in terms of solar jobs. And so we actually have 9,000 solar jobs that are direct and 40,000 that are actually indirect that are impacted by the solar industry here in Florida.

GREEN: So where is this legislation now, and what’s next for the legislation?

MILLAR: So right now the legislation has passed the House. I believe it’s got another vote here with the Senate, and then it will then roll on towards the governor’s office from there.

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »