Florida is inching closer to changing the state’s solar industry—and individual ownership of solar panels—for the worse.
A pair of bills, both heavily backed by utility interests, made big steps forward in the state legislature this week. What’s more, the utility has taken up blogging, of all things, to defend its honor. Stay kooky, Florida!
Despite the widespread public opposition and national attention on the bills’ shady ties to Florida Power and Light (FPL), one of the state’s most powerful utilities, both the Senate and House anti-solar bills are cruising through the legislature. Last week, a subcommittee granted the bill, HB 741, its first approval in the House. On Tuesday, as hundreds of pro-rooftop-solar protesters rallied against the bill in Tallahassee, the Senate version of the bill, SB 1024, passed its final subcommittee in a 6-3 party-line vote, clearing the way for a full vote.
Both the Senate and House bills deal with what’s known as net metering, which is a practice that lets folks who put solar panels on their roof sell excess electricity that they generate to the utility and put it back on the grid. The legislation would allow utilities to lower the amount of credit they give solar customers for excess electricity and hit them with additional fees, thus eliminating a major incentive to install solar panels in the first place.
Net metering helps make rooftop solar more attractive to customers, keeps the solar installation industry running, and makes more renewable energy available on the grid during potential peak load times (like very hot days). It also encourages more local generation, which eliminates stresses on distribution systems. Net metering, however, is not attractive to utility interests that want to continue to be the sole source of power for customers.
Florida Power and Light (FPL), the state’s largest utility, isn’t a huge fan of net metering. Only 1% of customers in Florida actually use net metering, but rooftop solar installations have exploded since 2018, when new regulations allowed people to rent panels for cheap; small-scale solar in Florida shot up by 57% in 2020 alone. FPL says that this rapid growth of rooftop solar could cost Florida utilities up to $700 million by 2025. (The Senate version of the bill has since had a compromise amendment added that would grandfather in rates for current rooftop solar owners, but opponents say the bill would still kneecap the industry’s growth.)
This isn’t the first time that FPL has tried to end net metering in the state—and not the first time that they’ve used underhanded tricks to try and reach their goals. In 2016, FPL joined three other powerful utilities in the state to push an anti-solar ballot measure, billed as a “Smart Solar” amendment. Since rooftop solar enjoyed wide popularity in Florida, the campaign was presented by advocates as a pro-solar measure, but actually used rhetorical tricks to constrain net metering and set other restrictions and fees on rooftop solar owners. After attracting national attention, the amendment was defeated.
Now, FPL is trying again—and they seem to be resorting to directly paying politicians this time around. In December, leaked emails jointly reported by the Miami Herald and Floodlight showed how FPL lobbyists met with a first-term state senator, Jennifer Bradley, directly drafted the text of an anti-net metering bill, and delivered it to Bradley’s office. Two days later, NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company and the largest utility in the country, gave $10,000 to Bradley’s political committee. The matching House version of the bill, meanwhile, was introduced by Rep. Lawrence McClure, who has taken money from various sources with ties to FPL and NextEra Energy; he subsequently got a $10,000 donation from an organization with ties to that network, according to the Herald/Floodlight report.
FPL, it seems, had a big problem with having their business read out to the world like that. In early January, they posted a 1,000-plus word blog full of allegations about the Miami Herald’s reporting, including charges that the reporter who led the story on their financial ties to the anti-net metering bills had “attempted to influence” a politician during a conversation. (The Herald reported that they obtained a fuller recording of the actual interaction between their reporter and the politician and that FPL’s accusations were out of context.)
Given how well these bills seem to be going, you guys might want to lay off the blog-based attacks. Buying the legislature seems to be working just fine.