Florida bill protects on-site solar use from PSC regulations

Wasn’t it mere months ago that it seemed like Florida would never have an effective solar industry? The last week has proven, however, how quickly things can change.

In the latest sign that solar is catching on as quickly as Pokemon Go once did, Senator José Javier Rodríguez introduced Senate Bill (SB) 456, which would allow solar-energy producers to sell electricity to users on the property without being labeled as public utilities, as long as the system is under 2.5 MW in capacity.

The distinction could encourage more  small businesses and multi-tenant facilities to install solar systems. Under current Florida law, such systems risked being labeled as public utilities, which would bring them under the regulatory auspices of the Florida Public Service Commission.

The bill was referred to three Senate  subcommittees for consideration: Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities; Community Affairs, and Rules. If it manages to clear these oversight committees, SB 456 would go before the full Senate for a vote.

Florida’s solar industry has come a long way in a relatively short time. As recently as the middle of 2016, solar advocates bemoaned the fact that the state’s solar industry continued struggling to expand beyond its niche market status. Low electricity prices, combined with arcane utility regulations, combined to suppress solar development in the state.

But two high-profile battles during a contentious election season – one pro-solar, one anti-solar – put solar front and center for Floridians, and now it seems they refuse to go backwards.

The two battles were comprised of two constitutional-amendment ballot initiatives. Amendment 4, which passed with overwhelming public support in August, exempted commercial solar installations from being considered in property-tax assessments. Like SB 456, the amendment, which is currently in the early implementation stages, is expected to encourage small businesses to install more solar arrays.

Amendment 1, on the other hand, was a utilities-concocted initiative designed to keep solar-electricity generation firmly in their hands and out of the hands of homeowners who wanted to generate their own power.

As late as August, Amendment 1 seemed destined to pass, but after a series of hilarious missteps by the backers of the amendment in the closing weeks of the campaign, Amendment 1 was rejected overwhelmingly by the voters.

Ever since, the pro-solar momentum has not slowed down. First, third-party residential solar developer SolarCity (which was subsequently folded into the Tesla brand) moved into the state for the first time. Then two new initiatives – one involving solar co-ops and one involving property-assessed clean energy (PACE) – are being worked on by solar advocates to expand solar’s reach.

And on Monday, Florida Power & Light – the state’s largest utility and one of the backers of the ill-fated Amendment 1 – announced plans to double its utility-scale solar capacity by the end of next year.