Utilities are not the most popular companies these days. Over the years of fighting tooth and nail to stop distributed solar, utilities across the United States have increasingly incited public indignation by their sometimes brazen attempts to control the supply and sources of electricity – which in some places has included subversion of the Democratic process.
This includes Florida, where a new initiative to break up the state’s monopoly utilities and enshrine residents’ right to generate their own power is on its way to the state’s Supreme Court, its first stop on its way to the ballot.
Citizens for Energy Choices (CEC) has gathered over 79,000 signatures for the effort to get a constitutional amendment in Florida to provide residents “the right to choose their own electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity”.
But this is far from all that the organization seeks to accomplish. In fact, the petition calls for the the abolition of the monopoly enjoyed by the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs), for the opening of retail electricity to competition and/or public ownership, and for IOUs to be limited to “construction, operation, and repair of electrical transmission and distribution systems”.
“Currently the access to the market of generating your own electricity is controlled by the monopoly utilities,” stated Alex Patton, chair of Citizens for Energy Choices. “We are trying to allow anybody to generate their own power and sell their own power.”
The call to give residents the right to generate their own power is particularly relevant in Florida, where state law designates anyone who sells electricity to end-users as a “public utility”, essentially making power purchase agreements (PPAs) de facto illegal.
For years this and the lack of legal clarity around lease products prevented third-party solar companies from offering their financial products in the state, until Sunrun got a ruling from Florida regulators that the company’s lease products are not a retail sale of electricity.
This was followed by Vivint securing a similar ruling in August. But while this opened up the residential market, it came after a series of difficult political battles. This included the fight over Amendment 1, the utility-backed measure which a consultant described as “political jiu-jitsu” designed to trick voters into allowing utilities to legally block solar.
As such, an increasing number of Floridians appears to be seeking to legally enshrine their rights, and there is currently a bill in the State Senate to ensure that property owners have the right to generate electricity and produce or sell it to users on their property.
The Florida Energy Choice petition is the latest of such efforts and CEC’s Patton says that if successful the effort will “unleash alternative energy in Florida.” This includes explicitly authorizing third-party solar.
A long road ahead
CEC notes that it reached the necessary number of signatures two months earlier than its goal, which Patton says is due to the positive reception that the initiative is getting from Florida voters.
And while over 76,000 signatures in less than fourth months is impressive, it is only the beginning. Reaching this threshold has allowed the effort to go to the state for a judicial and financial impact review, but in order to make the ballot CEC will need to get 766,200 signatures, or nearly 10x that volume.
And if it does succeed, the fight will still not be over, as the petition calls on the state legislature “to adopt and complete comprehensive legislation” to achieve many of its ends.
It remains to be seen if this effort can clear all of these hurtles. But what is clear is that Floridians are increasingly deciding that they are no longer willing to allow utilities to control their energy future.
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Didn’t we just read this week FP&L’s pledge of 10 GW of solar by 2030? With FP&L’s purchase of Gulf Power, that leaves Duke as other other major IOU in Florida… with a post here earlier of 550 MW of solar in NC by Duke.
Yes. While FPL is planning 10 GW, they haven’t said how much of that is customer-sited. Likely none of it, as FPL has shown a strong preference to built utility-scale solar, which it can own and/or control, and which doesn’t threaten its investments in T&D infrastructure.
This is about residents having a right to own and generate their own electricity from their own PV on their own land, which is a very different thing. In the future I expect that this will be a much bigger fight.
Of course it’s going to be a big fight. But the fight is over money (and an insignificant amount at that), at the expense of carbon and our environment.
That seems remarkably dismissive.
The fight isn’t only over money. It is over control, and it will ultimately be over reliability: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/01/03/as-utilities-fight-distributed-generation-electricity-is-getting-less-reliable/
Hey Christian, you highlight a very macroscopic view of “the battle” between IOUs and “prosumer” advocates – ignoring that the entire US is not made up of IOUs only. The reliability issue likes to link to comparisons with Europe where sprawling distribution systems do no exist like in the US, and large scale gen/transmission… where time after time we see all the investments made in small scale DG come at much greater cost and much less return. So yes, “control” is over marginal dollars in the greater scope of our energy transition efforts & the CapEx required – which is not infinite… and all efforts are not going “swimmingly” forward; i.e., “solar coaster”, “Cypress Creek”, EV deployments at scale necessary against more, more, more SUVs, or battles over “Retail NEM”… or the odd formation of the “Green Tea Party”.
Not 2 days ago… we see announcements of how another major player [the new NFL stadium] is exiting Nevada Energy to procure energy from a MidAmerican wind farm in the eastern Grid. Yeah “grid defection”! But wait, MidAmerican is BHE which is Nevada Energy. Seriously, WTF? And what about transmission needed… which you and I both know is a serious NIMBY issue in the ISO-NE… which is an issue in Wisconsin linking Iowa wind to load centers.
Honestly, there is too much going on stalling, delaying all efforts in the transition… and who “controls” what and where is the least of our issues on trying to right this mess we’ve ALL made for ourselves and those coming after us.
I agree that the speed of the energy transition is the most important matter. But as far as investments in small-scale DG not yielding returns, that claim is strongly contradicted by a very substantial volume of evidence, including every credible value of solar study. I will note here that in California ratepayers recently saved $2.6 billion in deferred transmission system investments thanks to DG.
The other thing that you are not counting on is solar on new buildings. While retrofitting solar on existing buildings contains inherent inefficiencies, many of these costs are eliminated or shrunk to irrelevance if solar is mandated on new construction.
The biggest difference I’ve seen between the U.S. and Europe is that Europeans bury their power lines. Because we typically don’t do this, we’ve made a system which is inherently vulnerable to extreme weather events. Power lines already cause most outages, and this issue will only get worse as weather gets more severe and less predictable.
I think that we need to build renewables at _all_ scales, but DG is strategic for a number of reasons. This is particularly true in regions like New England where the NIMBYism is strong. Solar balances wind, including offshore wind, in its pattern of output on hour-by-hour and seasonal basis, and DG gets less local resistance than large-scale solar in densely populated areas.
This is a great thing as our Florida utilities, Repub leaders and utility bought and paid for PSC have refused to give us what we want.
That said PPAs, leases have always been legal which the 2 rulings just said , just you have to use a set price instead of by kwh price.
And completely legal to build a microgrid as long as every customer owns a small piece.
Our lowest cost utilities are co-ops, munis by 20-30% says how much more large corporations cost.
I’m rather happy as I can make dirt cheap RE power and would consider producing power in quantity if I can get a reasonable price.
Another is behind the meter solar, wind, CHP in the southern US costs 50% less than utility power means any utility that has lots of FF , even solar, wind assets can’t compete with that so forcing the wire utility this makes to sell them off will actually let them survive.
Note it is likely to be a 75% vote for it based on last yrs solar amendment that passed.
Though I’ll likely just build solar, wind Plug and Play systems so others can make their own power.
I have a small, just under 10kW system in SW Florida. It would be helpful to join with 15-25+ neighbors to have a MicroGrid/VPP (Virtual PowerPlant) with everyone having a few Li Batteries each
25 of us would be a 1/4 _Megawatt_ Plant with virtually zero T&D (transmission and distribution) costs (about 3-4cents per kWh) and we could help grid stability FCAS (Frequency Control Ancillary Services), keep the lights on (Hurricane Irma, Michael, Charley, etc)
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