What is “net metering?”
Net metering is the legal framework that allows residents with solar panels to sell excess power back to “the grid.” Under this billing tool, the energy your solar panels produce and you don’t use, is credited back to you.
Created in 2008, the net metering rule was passed to jumpstart a nascent solar industry.
But as solar systems ballooned since 2008, some question the need to continue the program.
Former Public Service Commission Chair Lisa Edgar recently told a Senate committee — the first to hear the bill — that the state’s net metering rule worked very well at spurring rooftop solar adoption.
However, with more than 90,000 systems online (and counting), Edgar says it’s time for solar to enter a marketplace and lessen the burden on lower as well as middle-income families who currently subsidize the industry.
“If this subsidy is allowed to continue unchecked, cost of electricity to non-solar users will continue to increase, especially for those that can least afford higher bills,” Edgar said. It’s simply time to update “Net Metering,” she added, making it better and fairer for all Florida residents.
Edgar believes solar can remain affordable in Florida if the net metering reform legislation passes.
Solar customers will continue to be compensated for the energy they send to the grid. They will also receive substantial federal tax credits. Leasing options still exist to defray installation costs, and the overall cost of installing solar dropped substantially over the last decade.
Legislation is now moving through the legislature in Tallahassee to ensure solar and other renewables pay a proportionate share of their revenues to support the state’s energy infrastructure.
Subsidized solar appeared to strike a blow to utilities with the revelation an outside lobbyist sent Sen, Jennifer Bradley, the lead Senate sponsor of the new bill, legislative language that ended up in the bill that was introduced soon after.
To the public, such action may seem out of the ordinary. But to several lobbyists and members of the legislators Florida Politics spoke to, such bill drafts sent to both Republicans and Democrats by lobbyists and other interest groups, happen dozens of times every day, an ordinary occurrence in both the House and the Senate.
And Edgar is not alone.
Writing in the Palm Beach Post, Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Julio Fuentes said many news outlets are arguing, “All electric customers in our great state should pay higher bills to subsidize the affluent minority who own solar panels.”
You heard that right: Newspapers are taking the position that all of us should pay more so that those who are able to afford solar panels pay less.
Fuentes, among others, contends that the actual cost of solar infrastructure has declined by 60% and the massive subsidies and tax breaks are unneeded. If solar wants to be in the residential power market, then it needs to be subject to the same maintenance and distribution mandates as other energy utilities.
Some activists and the rooftop solar industry (which makes millions each year), don’t see the income disparity; they don’t want subsidies to go away.
George Riley, state director for Conservatives for Clean Energy, recently argued: “If net metering is eliminated, it will shift rooftop solar into a luxury only affordable for the wealthy. That would be a giant step backward when we should be working to ensure that the free resource of Florida’s sunshine is available for all.”
According to former state Sen. John Grant, founder of Seniors Across America, the net metering bill debate is simply a matter of fairness.
“It’s simply not fair that the majority of hard-working Floridians and fixed income seniors should have to foot the bill for a small group of wealthy people who can afford solar panels,” Grant says.
Debate will undoubtedly heat up as Sine Die gets closer.
SB 1024 faces one more committee stop; HB 741 passed its first committee with two stops remaining.