Revealed: Florida Power Company Pushes Legislation to Slow Rooftop Solar Power | Solar energy

The largest electricity company in the United States is pushing for policy changes that would hamper solar power on rooftops in Florida, providing legislation for a state lawmaker to introduce, according to documents obtained by the Miami Herald and Floodlight .


Florida Power & Light (FPL), whose work with black money policy committees helped secure Republican control of the state Senate, is pushing to end net metering, a policy that allows homeowners and Florida companies offset the costs of installing solar panels by selling electricity. back to business.

Internal emails obtained from the Florida Senate show that an FPL lobbyist John Holley sent the text of the bill to the staff of Senator Jennifer Bradley on October 18. FPL’s parent company donated $ 10,000 to Bradely’s political committee on October 20. A month later, Bradley filed an invoice almost identical to the one FPL gave him. Another lawmaker introduced the same measure in the House.

Bradley said the donation was unrelated to the bill.

“Any decision I make to introduce legislation is entirely based on whether it is in the best interest of our state and my district,” she said. “This discussion of meter fairness is happening in legislatures across the country and it is time for it to happen in Florida.”

FPL’s parent company NextEra said its political committee had not contributed to Bradley’s campaign “while waiting for a favor.”

FPL spokesman Chris McGrath said the company is not opposed to net metering, but the law should be revised so that rooftop solar users are not subsidized by other customers who continue to buy electricity and pay to maintain the electricity grid. FPL argues that rooftop solar power could cost Florida utilities around $ 700 million between 2019 and 2025, according to documents submitted to state regulators.

“We just think rooftop solar customers should pay the full cost of this investment,” McGrath said.

The solar industry is fiercely opposed to this effort. Katie Chiles Ottenweller, southeast director of Vote Solar, said she was suspicious given the PFL’s influence in the legislature.

“Businesses don’t pass legislation,” she said. “Lawmakers pass laws. Hope it’s a conversation starter, but at the same time it’s really hard to have a conversation when you have a gun over your head. The bill as drafted will wipe out this industry.

Only about 90,000 Florida electricity customers, about 1%, sell excess power back to the grid. But the arrangement led to significant solar expansion on the rooftops. The proposed legislation could seriously curb this growth.

Nationally, power companies are feeling pressured by the rise of distributed renewables. Rooftop solar power, while essential for tackling climate change, poses a threat to the traditional business model of utilities. Power companies like FPL make money from the things they build: mostly large power plants and lines that bring that energy to customers. They don’t make money with solar energy produced from rooftops.

The Florida bill is just one front in a decade-long battle against this policy. FPL backed a failed ballot amendment in 2016 that would have allowed regulators to impose fees and barriers to rooftop solar installation. The FPL also invested millions to tip the elections in favor of Republicans.

According to the report of The executives of Orlando Sentinel, FPL have been linked to a series of “black money” groups with untraceable donors. One group, Grow United, was behind a candidate who had no political background but the same last name as the outgoing Democrat. The candidate hijacked votes and helped Republicans maintain a majority in the state Senate. A Florida state attorney is investigating. In response to questions for this story, FPL denied any wrongdoing related to political campaigns.

“Significant costs”

Bradley, the bill’s sponsor, is a first-term senator but is close to the leadership of the Senate. She is married to former state senator Rob Bradley, an influential politician who headed the budget committee. Bradley said the wording for the bill emerged after a meeting with Holley and other members of the utility industry.

“I looked at the tongue,” she said. “It was based on our discussion and it was one that I could support as a starting point.”

The emails show that Bradley’s staff followed up with FPL after this discussion. On October 8 of this year, Legislative Assistant Katie Heffley emailed Holley under the subject line “Net Metering Bill”.

“Good afternoon, I hope you are doing well,” Heffley wrote. “I just wanted to check and see if you have any tracking information or language regarding the net metering bill that you discussed with Senator Bradley.”

Eight minutes later Holley replied, “Yes. Can I bring it to you later today? “

Heffley suggested he could “email it today or we’ll be on Capitol Hill next week.”

Holley instead chose to file a copy in person. Ten days later, Heffley emailed her again.

“I just want to reach out and see if I can get an electronic copy of the net metering bill so I can write it up,” she said.

Emails obtained as part of a public registration application show that FPL drafted a bill to end net metering so that a Florida state lawmaker could introduce the legislation. Photography: Miami Herald, Floodlight, Energy & Policy Institute

Two days later, on October 20, NextEra Energy donated $ 10,000 to Bradley’s political committee, Women Building the Future, according to campaign records.

The email recordings were provided to the Herald and Floodlight by the Energy & Policy Institute, a watchdog that combats disinformation about renewable energy.

According to the bill, customers whose solar panels supply power to the grid would be compensated less, at wholesale rather than retail rates. Utilities could also charge more rooftop solar customers by adding installation fees, grid access fees, and minimum monthly payments. Customers already using solar power on rooftops before 2023 would be grandfathered and keep the previous compensation rates for 10 years.

Bradley said she was open to discussing alternative models, including a system used in the Carolinas to pay rooftop solar customers to send electricity to the grid when it is most in demand.

In an interview, Lawrence McClure, the Bill’s sponsor in the House, said he was “not done”.

“[It’s] very early in the race for this bill, ”he said. “I think he has a real chance to work things out in a way that most parties aren’t upset.”

McClure noted that the net metering law needs to be discussed as it has not been updated for 13 years.

“I think rooftop solar power is good for the environment and good for Floridians,” he said. “I’m worried it will come at a significant cost here, but I don’t want to destroy the rooftop solar industry in Florida either. “

McClure did not receive any campaign donations from FPL or its parent company during the bill’s discussion period. But his campaign secured a donation of $ 10,000 from a related political committee on Nov. 4. He’s from Voice of Florida Business, which is linked to an industry group, Associated Industries of Florida. The group’s consultants have also worked on black money campaigns in the state Senate, according to Orlando Sentinel.

McClure said the contribution “had absolutely nothing to do with sponsorship of the bill.”

“I don’t think there was ever any contribution that motivated me to sponsor a bill,” he said.

Associated Industries of Florida consultant Sarah Bascom said the group “is not discussing specific political donations.”

“However, if you imply that the contributions paid are linked to specific legislation that has been filed or not filed, the answer is a categorical no,” she said.

“Forced to subsidize”

Florida is one of 47 states that allow households and businesses that generate electricity to sell it back to the grid at a fixed rate. However, utilities are increasingly concerned about how the growth of distributed solar power is affecting their bottom line. In California, regulators plan to increase fees for rooftop solar customers. Even some conservationists say the change is right and necessary due to the rapid pace of rooftop solar development in this state.

In Florida, rooftop solar power developed slowly until 2018, when regulators allowed electricity customers to lease solar systems with little to no upfront costs. The move catapulted the growth of small-scale solar capacity in the state. It increased 57% in 2020, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

FPL says its 24,000 net metering customers cost the company $ 30 million in 2020, or about $ 1,250 per customer. Utilities experts have testified to regulators in Florida that solar power on state rooftops could grow by 39% per year through 2025 if the current net metering system is left in place. Such growth worries public services and legislators.

“Because of the current system, my constituents are forced to subsidize the decisions of neighbors in other counties who are able to install these expensive systems in their homes,” said Jennifer Bradley.

The solar industry frequently retorts that rooftop solar power in most states hasn’t increased enough to dramatically increase costs for other customers.

Florida has the second-largest solar workforce in the United States, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. It ranks third among states for installed solar capacity, although much of it is large-scale and owned by utilities.

Justin Vandenbroeck, president of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, which also owns an Orlando-based solar installation company, said if the bill passes it could “kick Florida back in 2013”.

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