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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Rooftop solar changes go to DeSantis, but critics warn that industry will be decimated

 Solar panels in Merritt Island.
John Raoux
Solar panels in Merritt Island.

Led by a Jacksonville-area legislator, the Florida Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would make major changes in rules for rooftop solar energy, after weeks of attempts by the solar industry and environmental groups to head it off.

Senate sponsor Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the current system is “regressive,” as it leads to the vast majority of utility customers subsidizing rooftop-solar owners. The bill would lead to gradual changes — what lawmakers call a “glide path” — that eventually would prevent subsidies.

“This bill is fair,” Bradley said. “It’s a thoughtful glide path to get us to a no-subsidy (system).”

But opponents argued that the complicated issue should be studied and said the bill could cause heavy job losses in the rooftop-solar industry. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the bill would “fundamentally” change the industry and that lawmakers should take a more measured approach.

“This bill is a sledgehammer of a bill on the solar industry of Florida,” Brandes said.

The House voted 83-31 to pass the bill last week, meaning it is now ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Backers of the bill included Florida Power & Light Co., which ran television ads urging lawmakers to act.

The issue deals with what is known as “net metering,” which involves the interplay between utilities and rooftop solar owners, including credits that utilities provide for electricity generated by rooftop solar systems.

The Florida Public Service Commission in 2008 established rules that, with increased use of rooftop-solar systems over the years, have helped fuel the debate about subsidies.

People who own rooftop solar systems are required to hook up to utility systems and are able to sell excess electricity and receive bill credits in return. Under the 2008 rules, monthly credits are provided at utilities’ retail rates. An important part of the bill would change that to ultimately providing the credits at what are known as “full avoided cost” rates, which would reduce the amounts going to rooftop solar owners.

Part of the subsidy argument also stems from utilities continuing to face the overall costs of operating the electrical grid. Bradley said the rules were set in 2008 to subsidize a “nascent” rooftop solar industry but have led to shifting costs to the broader group of utility customers.

But opponents of the bill contend it could cripple the solar industry because it would reduce financial incentives for homeowners to install rooftop systems. They also have questioned the arguments about cost shifts, saying more evidence was needed.

“We’re not sure about the data that we’re relying on,” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said.

The bill would phase in credit changes over a series of years, starting in 2024, and would require the Public Service Commission to adopt new rules that would take effect Jan. 1, 2029.

In part, the rules would require that a “customer who owns or leases renewable generation must pay the full cost of electric service and may not be subsidized by the public utility's general body of ratepayers.”

Also, the rules would require that “all energy delivered by the customer-owned or leased renewable generation to the public utility must be credited to the customer at the public utility's full avoided costs.”

The bill would allow current rooftop solar customers to keep their net-metering rate designs for 20 years, as many rooftop systems are financed.

A House staff analysis said the state had 90,552 rooftop-solar systems at the end of 2020, an increase of about 30,000 from the previous year. That, however, represented less than 1% of the 10.5 million utility customers at the time.

Copyright 2022 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.
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