The fight in Florida is the beginning of what will be a growing riff between utilities and advocates of solar energy. To frame the present situation in Florida, it is currently illegal in most of the state to sell solar to a third party. If you sold electricity to a third party, you would be considered a utility and subject to the rules of a utility. This becomes an issue when you look at the very popular business model for solar companies to install and own panels on a home and then sell the electricity to the residence. The homeowner doesn’t have to stake the upfront capital costs, but can still reap the rewards of having solar. Utilities are against this because it propagates solar use which cuts into their revenues. While, there are ways around this issue, such as PWRStation’s program of leasing or renting portable units, it’s a huge blow to the proliferation of solar in Florida.
The Floridians for Solar Choice effort is trying to change this. It is an effort primarily backed by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and other environmental, clean energy, and social organizations. They have sponsored the Florida Right to Produce and Sell Solar Initiative Amendment. The Amendment limits the ability of the government or utilities to impose barriers on the sale of solar electricity to customers at the same or contiguous site as long as it’s under 2 MW per day. This would not only allow solar companies to own solar installations on people’s homes, but allow for other forms of solar financial models such as community cooperatives.
The opposition to this is the Consumers for Smart Solar backed by the utility companies. They have counteracted by proposing a bill of their own. It is called the Florida Right to Solar Energy Choice Amendment. It states that it ensures the right to produce solar for your own use. This you can already do, so in essence, it changes nothing. You will still not be able to sell solar in Florida. The more important part of this campaign is to confuse voters in an effort to torpedo the effort by Floridians for Solar Choice. It is meant to protect utilities from the spread of solar systems.
The latest on this is that the Floridians for Solar Choice effort will most likely fall short of the 639,149 signatures required by Feb. 1, 2015 to get on the November 2016 ballot. As of Dec. 25, 2015, Floridians for Solar Choice has 271,000 signatures. The signatures are good for 24 months, so they can continue the effort for the 2018 ballot. Moreover, what’s more troubling is the big money lobbying and disinformation campaign put on by the utility industry. $5.9 million was raised by Consumers for Smart Solar (the utilities) versus $1.9 million by the Floridians for Solar Choice effort. The utilities were clearly successful in their confusion campaign creating enough mix-up to derail the original effort.
The fight in Florida perfectly exemplifies the issues that solar and distributed Energy in general will face. A new energy structure needs to be molded that takes into account solar and renewable’s unique characteristics. Solar’s unique financial business models need to be allowable and utilities need to be properly compensated. There are lots factors to consider which will play out in very opaque ways, as exemplified by the fight in Florida.