Surprisingly Gov. DeSantis Does Some Environmental Good

Florida's Republican governor has killed a bill to stifle rooftop solar that was supported by his party's state legislature.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Ron DeSantis covers his mouth with his hand.
Pretty sure he’s yawning here, but imagine instead that Gov. DeSantis has also surprised himself.
Photo: Mike Ehrmann / Staff (Getty Images)

In the Sunshine State, a major incentive for homeowners to install solar panels will stay in place, thanks to a wildly unexpected veto from Florida’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis. The veto is the final outcome of a legislative journey that started with what unmistakably smells like a $10,000 political payoff by Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest utility.

HB 741 and its Senate version SB 1024 had each passed through the Republican-controlled Florida legislature with flying colors. But on Wednesday, DeSantis opted to stop the potential law in its tracks, citing inflation as the reason why. “Given that the United States is experiencing its worst inflation in 40 years and that consumers have seen steep increases in the price of gas and groceries, as well as escalating bills, the state of Florida should not contribute to the financial crunch,” the governor said in his veto letter.

Though it sounds good on paper, it’s hard to say if DeSantis’ stated reason is the full truth behind the veto, when the campaign to get the bill signed into law was marred by an email leak and a touch of political shadiness.

According to emails originally obtained and published by the Miami Herald in partnership with Floodlight, a lobbyist for Florida Light and Power basically drafted the anti-solar text of HB 741 and then sent it to state Senator Jennifer Bradley, who eventually sponsored the legislation. Their reporting also revealed political donations made to Bradley on behalf of FLP and its parent company.

Advertisement

So, What Was HB 741?

Electric utilities hate it when you do this one weird trick: installing solar panels that, at certain times, produce more energy than your home is using. In lots of states, including Florida, electric utilities buy back that excess energy from rooftop and other small-scale solar operations to re-sell on the larger grid at the market rate, in a billing mechanism called “net metering.”

Advertisement

HB 741/SB 1024 would’ve greatly reduced the amount of money rooftop solar users get back from power companies for the electricity they produce through net metering, and also would’ve tacked on fees.

Net metering costs electric companies some potential profits, but is a big part of what makes installing and maintaining solar panels a good investment in the long term for people who can afford the upfront cost. And, it also helps to make the electric grid more reliable during potential peak load times (ex: hot Florida afternoons when people want their air conditioning blasting). There is a federal tax credit incentive for solar installation. However, without net metering, expansion of rooftop solar becomes much more reliant on homeowners’ drive to do environmental good—a more limited resource than say, homeowners’ desire for personal financial gain.

Advertisement

This set of bills wasn’t the first time Florida Power and Light has tried to take down the state’s net metering policy. In 2016, they teamed up with a coalition of other utilities to try and pass a misleading ballot measure marketed as “Smart Solar” to limit solar user benefits. But this most recent attempt was the one that’s gotten the furthest.

Is DeSantis a Climate Champion?

No. However, he has done some OK things when it comes to environmental policy. For instance, the same day he vetoed HB 741, he also approved legislation aimed at promoting more floating solar facilities statewide and an “inventory of critical wetlands.” Yet all of his climate change actions stop short of actually doing what needs to be done to intervene in the ongoing environmental catastrophe.

And, as nice as solar panels are, allowing rooftop incentives to stay in place for now certainly doesn’t cancel out all the other harm DeSantis has done. One of his other major, recent energy actions was to require that cities continue burning fossil fuels. To restate: last year, the governor of Florida passed a law making it illegal for municipalities to officially commit and convert to 100% renewable energy. It’s a Captain Planet villain- level of climate self-sabotage, especially given Florida is uniquely at risk from sea level rise, and worsening extreme weather as human-caused climate change continues.