Florida utilities battle solar companies over net-metering

Florida is considering changing its solar net metering rules.
Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Scalable Grid Engine, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brenda Probasco is concerned that proposed changes to Florida’s solar rules will hinder the growth of renewable energy in the Sunshine State and hurt roof installers and their workers.

She’s not alone as installers and solar advocates battle utilities over net metering rules.

“We’re all going to be bankrupt,” said Probasco, general manager of Voltage Pro Solar & Electric Inc.

The solar company performs residential rooftop and commercial installations in the Tampa Bay area as well as the Space Coast and other areas.

Probasco, who lives in Gulfport, and other solar power installers and advocates are concerned about the impact of proposed legislation regarding Florida’s net metering rules.

Net metering allows residential and commercial solar users who generate their own electricity to sell that electricity back to the grid. They can receive compensation or credits for this excess energy.

Net metering policies differ from state to state, and there have been battles in other legislatures at times pitting utilities against solar installers and renewable energy advocates.

In Florida, the latter groups oppose Tallahassee legislation that would change net metering rules.

Senate Bill 1024 and House Bill 741 would change the rates at which utilities buy excess solar power from rooftop users.

Currently, utilities purchase excess solar energy at a retail rate. Invoices would change this to a cheaper wholesale rate. They also originally had a 10-year grandfather clause for existing solar customers.

“It’s pulling the rug out from under people’s feet,” said Bryan Jacob, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s solar program.

The renewable group opposes utility efforts on the solar front in the Florida Legislature.

“We don’t like them,” Jacob said.

Lawmakers plan to adjust the phasing in of the new rules from 10 to 20 years. The shorter grandfather clause and phasing in were a major concern for solar advocates.

Renewable energy advocates say a 20-year phase-in or grandfather clause would better align with solar panel warranties and the interests of homeowners with rooftop panels.

Florida Power & Light is a leading proponent of broader changes to net metering rules.

FPL spokeswoman Lisa Paul said the utility supports solar growth, but said the state needs to review the rules.

“The annual subsidy paid by all FPL customers to support rooftop solar is approximately $30 million today. By 2025, this subsidy is expected to nearly triple to more than $80 million. This growing multi-million dollar subsidy is why we believe Florida’s decade-plus net metering rules should be modernized, not scrapped. We are not opposed to net metering; we oppose the subsidy received by 0.5% of our customers and paid by the remaining 99.5%,” Paul said in a statement to The Gabber.

She highlighted FPL’s large-scale solar construction efforts, including plans to install 30 million panels statewide by 2030 for long-term customers,” Paul said.

FPL supports legislative efforts in Tallahassee.

“We support this legislation which aims to create a level playing field for everyone because if left unchecked, the current rooftop solar rules in Florida will cost FPL customers even more in years to come,” said Paul. “We believe everyone should have the right and ability to put solar power on their roof if they want to, but we don’t believe everyone should have to pay for that decision.”

Probasco is concerned about utility changes to net metering rules and solar policies that are costing jobs.

They’re going to shut us down — run us over like a big fat,” said Probasco, who wants renewable energy advocates to address state lawmakers in Pinellas County on the issue of net metering.

His company has six employees who are generally paid between $20 and $25 an hour. She worries about what will happen to these and other jobs in the industry in Florida.

“We are talking about destroying the whole industry. These are the best paying jobs they have had in their lives,” she said.

Rooftop solar power accounts for about 40,000 jobs in Florida, according to the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.

Jacob said Florida has a solar penetration rate of 1%. That trails other states such as California, Arizona and Massachusetts that have double-digit rates, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Still, Florida ranked 3rd for direct solar jobs and new installations in 2021, according to SEIA.

The two sides of the fight against net metering differ on how to maintain this revolving momentum.

Jacob is also worried about the impact on installers and other companies in the solar segment.

“They are going to have to retract. Jobs will be lost,” he said.

Jacobs said utilities have sought to change net metering rules to their advantage through ballot action and utility regulators in Florida and other states.

Probasco said the employment impacts will extend to logistics and other dedicated solar operations in the state and will damage The Sunshine State’s renewable reputation.

“There are engineering firms that just do solar,” she said.

She also points to recent state-approved utility rate increases and fears more utility legislation targeting rooftop solar.

“They’re going to shut us down — run us over like a fat guy,” said Probasco, who wants renewable energy advocates to address state lawmakers in Pinellas County on the issue of net metering.

On the other side, utilities said the current solar rules were established in 2008 and need to be reformed and factor in panel prices.

“Tampa Electric strongly supports rooftop solar power for our customers because it’s good for the environment, helping us all reduce carbon emissions faster. Affordability is a priority, which is why we want to fair and cost-effective solar energy that benefits all customers in the future,” said TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs.

“Under Florida’s current net metering policies, the 1% of customers with rooftop solar panels benefit at the expense of the remaining 99% who bear the costs of maintaining the overall energy grid. Now is the time to refresh the 2008 net metering laws, making them more appropriate for today’s market, as well as fair to the 99% of customers without solar panels,” the TECO spokesperson said.

Duke Energy, which serves Pinellas County, is not actively participating in this session’s net metering legislative push.

“Duke Energy Florida is not proposing any net metering legislation. The company is still reviewing to determine our position. Simply put, Duke Energy is a strong supporter of solar energy and is committed to providing dependable, dependable, and cost-effective clean energy to our customers,” the utility said in a statement.

“Duke Energy Florida leads the state in the number of customer-owned renewable interconnects, which averages more than 1,250 customers per month of customer-owned solar generator interconnects,” the statement continued. “Duke Energy Florida currently has more than 430 megawatts and more than 49,000 customers with solar generation at their homes or businesses who rely on the electric grid and use the state’s net metering policy.”


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