Florida Solar Market and Why the Sunshine State is not the Solar State
Fort Lauderdale January 12, 2016 – If you asked people where the best place for solar energy would be one would expect places like California, Arizona and Florida to be at the top of that list.
Truth is Florida is near the bottom.
St. Petersburg, Florida holds a record in the Guinness Book for having a 768-day stretch of sunny days, and therefore even Dr. Spock would call solar in Florida “logical”.
In reality, the Florida and many other southern states solar laws, codes and policies are far from any logic. Instead of enjoying economic growth and prosperity from a free market adoption of the industry, it is nearly shut out of the southern states because monopolies like Florida Power and Light’s relentless objection, obstruction and omnipotent control of Florida’s electrical generation.
To put it lightly, the electric company in states like Florida, Virginia and South Carolina have created political environments and monopolistic policies that as so toxic to the solar energy that potential solar companies, workers and corporations are essentially shut out of creating solar energy jobs, installations or manufacturing completely.
In other parts of the country, companies like Sunrun and SolarCity have blazed trails for solar energy installations and has made solar panel installations as common as adding a hot water heater, pool pump or new appliances.
These and many other competing companies offer lease purchases, no money down financing and some actually rent rooftops to generate electricity they then sell to the tenants of the building. Most of these financial models are called third party power purchasing agreements (of PPA’s) and are common and perfectly legal in 47 states.
However, this practice is illegal in the Sunshine State.
In 2015 a grass roots effort was put forth asking Florida voters to sign a petition called Floridians for Solar Choice or FSC. The petition simply asks for a ballot item in November so voters can choose to change the law and give anyone the right to buy or sell the electricity made by solar panels.
The petition grew an impressive number of supporters from some very unlikely groups. Democrats and Republicans stood side by side the Sierra Club, Green Building Council and other groups typically at odds with each other. All of this was quite impressive for about six months until the electrical utilities decided the grass roots efforts could actually sway voters and control of who can sell solar panel electricity was slipping from their iron clad grip.
So the utilities joined forces, and posted up in a few million (from Florida Power Light, Duke and TECO) and they created a second ballot petition called Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS). The CSS ballot petition was primarily intended to confuse and oppose Florida voters but, if left as is will give the monopolies the ability to charge any fee they choose to those who put grid tied solar system on their homes or businesses and also penalize those who “cut the cord” and go off grid.
Bottom line is the Florida Electrical Utilities are willing to spend tens even hundreds of millions to keep the laws just like they are and the CSS petition has now collected the requisite signatures to make the November ballot. The utility backed petition (CSS) director simply paid the professional ballot collectors (called canvassers) twice the fee that the FSC was paying. Canvassers openly share they get more money for CSS so they do not ask people to sign the FSC petition anymore.
It is sad that home and business owners who don’t have the cash to buy solar panels outright are therefore disenfranchised by monopolies that now hold Floridian’s and other good southern people and business no choice but to buy to their product. Instead if PPA’s were allowed Florida and other southern states may see these policies fuel double-digit job growth like they have for 10 straight years in the markets that allow them.
Solar energy jobs represent one of the single largest job growth market in the USA but, not in the south and not in Florida. How long will Floridian’s allow the electrical utilities to oppress them? In the south, power companies relentlessly lobby, advertise and insist they are the only ones with the rights to sell power to residents and business in their realms.
Sadly there is truth to their cries but, only because law makers refuse to change franchise utility laws for the benefit of it’s citizens. In Tallahassee anyone who speaks solar is likely not going to be elected for an additional term and we all know that is all that matters to a politician.
On top of disallowing third-party systems, the southeastern states make it hard for home and business owners who would like to buy their own solar installations outright and take advantage of the Federal Law that requires the electric utility to “buy back” any excess power made by the solar panels. In many states (like California, New York and Massachusetts) that are enjoying thriving solar industries, utility companies gladly pay consumers for the excess energy their solar panels produce. In most cases, the utilities credit consumers at the full retail power rate.
Not in Florida.
Net metering credit rates are 10 to 15% of the retail cost of electricity or pennies at best. Plus the some municipalities and states charges taxes and fees on the energy made by the solar equipment. Business owners are taxed, commerical property owners are taxed on the increased value of the property and landlords cannot sell power to their tenants.
Because the state taxes the added value these systems provide to the market value of the home or business lawmakers were reluctant to put the law into effect for homeowners. In 2006 Florida voters passed a law by public vote but they delayed the law change five (5) years before Florida lawmakers finally imposed the will of the people and changed the the law to prevent the bite of the tax collectors and assessors on residential property.
It seems as if the utilities, state and municipal tax collectors, regulators and the politicians in the southeast states seem intent to lock solar out with toxic policies, golden hand shakes and forgotten laws but that does not mean the people will stand by.
“We get calls and e-mails every day asking for quotes” Florida based US Solar President Ray Johnson shared. “People want solar and want to be our customers. Many are choosing solar just because they hate the utilities and their control over people”.
Sadly, progress will be slow if at all in Florida for many reasons but, worst of all agencies intended to protect and serve are also being manipulated. For example a recent past public service commission meeting included a petition from Florida Power & Light and friends to “lock out” the public from the very hearings and meetings intended to protect them. They asked to be able to oversee the public interests themselves.
Kind of like the fox asking to guard the hen house right?
The motion nearly passed as the power company proclaimed the meetings were simply “to technical for common people”.
One Florida senator stated Florida is a bad place for solar because of all the rain and clouds. When the reporter asked a natural gas lobbyist (who was also in the meeting) why places like Germany are so advanced, the lobbyist actually stated that Germany has “special” sunlight.
Germany has special sunlight?
I guess these Floridian’s have missed all the Coppertone billboards, the Guinness Book is nothing but Tom Foolery, St Petersburg is actually dark and dreary while Germany always sunny like it is in Philadelphia.
According to this man Florida is simply not one of the number one destinations for sunshine in the entire world. I wonder what the Florida Tourism Board would say to this if these words were spoken at the annual Hotel and Tourism Board meetings and not behind would be locked doors of the Public Utilities Board meetings instead?
Still progress is happening in baby steps and there is good reason to be optimistic about the Florida Solar Industry. Utility companies will probably maintain their dominance and keep solar power at bay in Florida at least until solar simply becomes so affordable that home and business owners will be able to afford to defect from the grid even in the face of hefty taxes, fees and even jail time.
At the pace the cost of solar is dropping that could be next year.
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