Utilities change tack after Fla. ballot measure fails

Source: By Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald • Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Falling solar prices in Florida may lead to a renewable energy boom in the state, much to the chagrin of utility giants.

Utility companies poured around $30 million into a constitutional amendment that would limit solar installation in the state, but it failed at the ballot box last week (EnergyWire, Nov. 9).

The Florida Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that Florida businesses and homeowners will install 2,315 megawatts of solar capacity over the next five years — a nineteenfold increase from the past five years.

“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, a lawyer with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP. “The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”

One unintended consequence of the amendment effort was that it brought solar issues to the fore of Floridian politics, Delp added.

“It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states,” he said.

Florida Power & Light Co. and Duke Energy Florida, the state’s two largest utilities, are now requesting service fees for individuals who install their own solar panels.

“You make rooftop solar power financially unattractive in one of two ways,” said Jeff Prutsman, CEO of American Solar Energy Systems. “You either get rid of net metering or you add surcharges to the electric bills of consumers who own rooftop solar power systems. Either way, you increase the number of years that it takes for a rooftop solar power system to pay for itself with utility electric bill savings.”

Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a group that opposed the ballot initiative, said her group will combat utilities’ effort to change the state’s metering guidelines .