Last month, the Florida state legislature passed House Bill 741, which phases down the value of solar net metering, and opens the door for utilities to add fixed charges to solar customer bills. Net metering is a vital policy that supports the value of rooftop solar, paying customers for exporting excess solar energy production to the grid.
If passed by Governor Ron DeSantis, the law takes effect in 2023, payments to solar customers will regress from a retail rate, like the one they pay utilities at around 10 cents a kilowatt, to the “avoided cost” to the utility, a minute fraction of the retail rate. The phase out will slash payment rates to solar customers by 50% in four years and would drop further still to the avoided cost rate by 2029.
The broad language in the bill that allows for fixed charges is likened to a now-stalled similar net metering proposal in California, NEM 3.0. The fixed charges, only levied on solar customers, even those who have batteries that support electric grid resiliency, are described by experts as “a tax on the sun.”
A recent Sachs Media poll confirms that the citizens of the Sunshine State want supportive solar policy to stay. Regardless of political affiliation or age, 86% of the 722 polled Florida voters said they want Governor DeSantis to veto the bill. This includes 82% of Republican respondents, and 90% of Democrats. This is information that will likely carry weight as it reaches Mr. Desantis’ desk, as it is an election year for his seat.
The poll also demonstrated the uncertainty Floridians are feeling about the future of electricity in the state. About 84% of respondents said they are concerned about a utility bill increase over the next year. Rooftop solar offers peace of mind to these voters, as solar contracts secure a clear picture of what the homeowner would pay for electric rates over the next 20+ years.
“This bill is a nightmare for anyone who believes in energy freedom and the rights of people to choose the energy that works for them and their families. Net metering has helped over 100,000 Florida homeowners make that choice, and utilities are now banking on the state government to strip those rights away and pad their monopoly hold on electricity.” Will Giese, southeast regional director, Solar Energy Industries Association.
The bill has been described as an attack on Floridians’ personal freedom of choice, wresting power out of their hands and back into the hands of the utility. In total, across party lines, only 3% of respondents said they are interested in Governor DeSantis passing the bill.
Founded on the idea of the “cost shift,” the bills are pitched as a protection for non-solar customers from raised rates through cross-subsidizing solar customers. Studies completed by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab found that 40 of the 43 states and Washington D.C. with net metering programs have a negligible cost increase attributed to solar.
The Berkeley study found that cost pressures from net metering don’t start making a tangible effect until solar penetration reaches 10%. Florida is nowhere near this figure, with 0.86% of households currently topped with solar. And when battery energy storage is attached to a home solar system, the “cost shift” argument dissolves.
The state’s solar industry employs over 40,000 people, has led to $18.3 billion in economic activity, created $3.3 billion in tax revenues, and led to $3.2 billion in household energy savings. House Bill 741 is expected to put much of that at critical risk.
On an election year, Governor Ron DeSantis has the opportunity to be a hero to the Florida solar industry and to the 86% of voters who seek his veto.
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