As lawmakers look to bring an end to net metering in Florida, a recent poll shows voters overwhelmingly support net metering and other incentives for solar energy.
Data released Tuesday in a new Mason-Dixon poll shows 84% of Florida voters support net metering, an existing practice in which solar panel owners who generate more energy than they use may sell the excess energy to utility panels at the retail rate the utilities would charge to use that amount of energy. Proposed legislation (SB 1024/HB 741) would eventually end net metering, instead asking electric companies to pay solar panel owners a cheaper wholesale price.
However, Mason-Dixon’s poll found bipartisan support for net metering. An overwhelming 94% of Democrats support net metering while 76% of Republicans also support the measure.
“It’s clear that Floridians overwhelmingly support the freedom to choose rooftop solar for their homes and businesses,” said Justin Vandenbroeck, president of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.
“Unfortunately, the bills moving through the statehouse go directly against what the voters are asking for, making solar far less accessible,” he continued.
The poll found that 68% of Floridians think public utilities should make it easier for Floridians to install residential solar. That breaks down 82% among Democrats and 57% among Republicans.
However, general incentives for residential solar are more controversial. In total, 61% of Floridians support incentives, including 80% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans.
Furthermore, 47% of Florida voters said they would be less likely to re-elect state lawmakers who vote for any bills that significantly raise costs to install solar panels on their rooftops.
Mason-Dixon interviewed 625 registered Florida voters by telephone Feb. 7-10 for the poll. Those interviewed were randomly selected and included landline and cellphone numbers. The poll has a 4-percentage-point margin of error.
Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure are carrying the pair of bills through the Legislature. McClure’s bill has passed its first of three House committees while Bradley’s bill, which includes a step-down process to gradually get away from net metering, awaits its final Senate committee hearing.
The bill’s proponents claim solar customers are being subsidized by other utility customers because they rely on the underlying electric grid — and its lines, maintenance and other infrastructure costs — when the panels don’t generate enough electricity. They also argue the solar industry is growing enough to start scaling back the incentives for customers to go solar.
Although the 19,000 owners in Florida today generate just 0.8% of the state’s power, that number is poised to skyrocket in the future and could lead to a large cost burden being placed on nonsolar owners.
Critics argue the solar industry isn’t large enough yet to start cutting incentives. Some want lawmakers to tie the step-down to when solar panels achieve market penetration.
“Rooftop solar empowers families across Florida to take control of their utility bills and harvest their own electricity,” said Sun Harvest Energy CEO Ben Millar. “The solar industry is just beginning to grow in Florida, and the future is bright. But eliminating net metering stomps out opportunity, putting solar out of reach for millions of families.”
Solar panel companies point to a study from November indicating that the Florida rooftop solar industry supports more than 40,000 jobs and contributes more than $18 billion in economic opportunity, employing workers across the state.
The net metering bill came under additional scrutiny in December after the Miami Herald and Floodlight reported that Florida Power and Light drafted and encouraged state lawmakers to file legislation constricting the state’s growing rooftop solar industry, one in a series of news stories tracking claims of utility giant’s involvement in the political process.