Floridians seeking energy freedom

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A ballot amendment in Florida for the creation of a competitive retail electricity market is what Florida electricity utility FPL sought retribution against in recent headlines. When pv magazine USA reported that Warren Buffet said “maybe” to a gigawatt of solar and 400 MWh of energy storage, it was legislation similar to this that was being fought against. And back in 2015, when a petition that would let regular people sell some of their own solar started gaining traction, we saw the famous “political jiu jitsu” phrase arise as Florida utilities came together to fund a fake pro-solar bill.

Saddle up.

Sponsored by Citizens for Energy Choices, a petition – Right to Competitive Energy Market for Customers of Investor-Owned Utilities; Allowing Energy Choice – is one of 13 amendments that has gained preliminary qualification to be on the ballot when voters go to the polls in 2020. The initiative has approximately 345,000 of the 766,200 signatures needed by February 1, 2020 to get on the ballot. The initiative language must also be approved by the Florida Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for August 28. Per their campaign finance page, Citizens for Energy Choices has collected just over $3 million as of the end of June.

The Ballot Summary notes (full text pdf):

Grants customers of investor-owned utilities the right to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity. Requires the Legislature to adopt laws providing for competitive wholesale and retail markets for electricity generation and supply, and consumer protections, by June 1, 2025, and repeals inconsistent statutes, regulations, and orders. Limits investor-owned utilities to construction, operation, and repair of electrical transmission and distribution systems. Municipal and cooperative utilities may opt into competitive markets.

And while the more complete text of this pending amendment didn’t specifically say anything about solar power, the document did point out that “electricity customers” will have rights to “producing electricity themselves or in association with others”, as well, “nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the right of electricity customers to buy, sell, trade, or dispose of electricity”.

With this language we would see the current legal position of solar in Florida change, as currently anyone who sells electricity to anyone else within the state is to be regulated as a utility, with all of the responsibilities of a utility.

Recently, residential lease companies – starting with Sunrun, and followed by Vivint, Tesla, and Sunnova – had their residential equipment lease contracts approved by the state’s Public Service Commission. As these company’s leases for the Florida market are at a fixed price – not based directly on electricity generation – these companies were able to avoid the prohibition on sales of electricity by anyone but utilities. Equipment leasing of solar power had long been accepted in the Florida market, however, the large residential companies had skipped over the market – most likely due to murky legislative opinions.

The case docket related to this potential amendment includes comments filed by Duke Energy, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Tampa Electric Company, FPL, the State Attorney General, the President of the Florida Senate, and others. Supporters of the amendment include NRG Energy, Inc., Vistra Energy Corp., National Energy Marketers Association and The Energy Choice Coalition.

The Citizens for Energy Choice website notes that natural gas customers have been able to choose their suppliers since 1996, and estimates that this has saved those groups “billions”.

A document on the website focused on the Texas deregulation experiment (pdf), suggests that residential and commercial prices have fallen since deregulation, with competitive residential just recently catching up to the price of regulated residential, and commercial electricity falling lower in price about a decade ago.

Research by the Perryman Group estimates that if implemented in the near future, statewide competition in the Florida electric power market could generate benefits by 2030 including $8.3 billion in additional business activity and energy savings and over 90,000 jobs under conservative assumptions, with the potential for $9.7 billion in business activity and energy savings, as well as nearly 105,000 jobs.