TAMPA (WFLA) – In just days, a bill passed by the Florida Legislature will come before Governor Ron Desantis for signature. It will help shape the fate of rooftop solar in the Sunshine State.
The controversial bill lowers the credits power companies are required to provide to rooftop solar customers for the power they provide to the grid. Solar advocates say this will disincentivize Florida residents from investing in solar panels, crippling the rooftop solar industry.
House Bill 741 will soon become law unless Gov. DeSantis vetoes it.
“A signature will mean the end to solar as we know it here in Florida,” says former Navy Seal Steve Rutherford, now the owner of Tampa Bay Solar, “Basically it is a gun to the solar rooftop industry’s head.”
So why is this bill so consequential? Because right now homeowners with rooftop solar are compensated by the power companies for the excess energy they produce on sunny days. This is called net metering.
The energy flows into the grid and supplements energy the power companies would otherwise have to provide, thus helping lower demand overall.
The compensation rooftop solar owners receive is a credit which they can then use at night when the sun does not shine. This keeps electricity bills down and in some cases near zero for energy charges. For many solar owners, it also allows them to pay off the large upfront investment required for solar panels.
“I haven’t had an electric bill all year,” says retired St. Petersburg police officer Leonard Leedy, a customer of Rutherford. But he says he still pays the minimum payment to his utility of $30 dollars per month.
If passed, over the course of several years, this bill would lower the rate of credits from retail to wholesale. Leedy feels that is unfair because power companies charge the retail rate for energy, so he feels rooftop solar owners should receive the same rate for the electricity they produce.
8 On Your Side reached out to Florida Power and Light and they agree with the bill and disagree with Leedy.
A spokesperson for FPL explained that while rooftop solar owners do indeed supply energy, they do not provide a service like the power companies do. Therefore, FPL argues rooftop solar owners do not deserve to be paid the same rate for energy as the utilities.
FPL sees this change as necessary because they tell me these credits cost the utility $30 million dollars last year, a cost passed onto non-solar customers. Since FPL serves 5.6 million customers, that equates to around $5 dollars per customer for the year, or about 50 cents per month per customer.
For residents who already have rooftop solar installed, their retail rate will be grandfathered in for 20 years. So for people like Leedy, this bill will have minimal impact.
The bill text reads that for residents who invest in rooftop solar in the coming few years, they will lock in a compensation rate scaled down from the current retail rate. But for rooftop solar customers from 2029 onward, the new wholesale rate applies.
8 On Your Side asked FPL about the legislation’s origin.
“Following the Florida Public Service Commission’s 2020 Net Metering Workshop, we’ve been engaged in constructive dialogue with numerous lawmakers regarding this important issue,” FPL said in their response. “We provided our recommendation for a fair and equitable way to modernize Florida’s net metering rules that are more than a decade old. Ultimately, lawmakers decide the exact language that will be included in a bill that they choose to sponsor.”
But many industry advocates feel this will ruin rooftop solar’s return on investment and dissuade future customers. Heaven Campbell from Solar United Neighbors says it’s small businesses that will suffer the most.
“We expect to see is job loss and frankly business closures – mom and pop businesses – the majority of the solar installers, we have 100s in Florida,” Campbell said.
A November study found that Florida’s rooftop solar industry supports 40,000 jobs and has an economic impact of $18 billion.
Veterans make up 30% of Rutherford’s Tampa Bay Solar employees. He is worried about his employees and the thousands of others who work in rooftop solar. He feels nearly 4,000 jobs are at stake.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, states that implemented similar rules to what Florida is on the verge of doing continued to see some growth in rooftop solar after the new rules took effect, but the rate of growth was significantly lower in some cases.
8 On Your Side reached out by email to Gov. DeSantis’ office and asked if he has decided to sign this bill. “The governor has not yet received this bill from the legislature. He will act on it based on its final form, once delivered,” an office spokesperson said.