Net metering bill advances in House process, awaits compromise amendment
Let the sunshine: Rooftop solar is popular with Floridians.

Solar panels on rooftops in California
'Rooftop solar … cannot ride on the backs of the other ratepayers indefinitely.'

A significant change is coming to alleviate concerns around a bill to end net metering that would raise energy rates on rooftop solar panel customers.

Under current law, solar panel owners who have excess energy generated by the panels can sell it back to the utilities at the retail rate the utilities charge other customers, known as net metering. The bill (HB 741), carried by Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure and as passed Monday by the House State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, would require a cheaper wholesale price be charged to the utilities.

In the Senate, lawmakers have amended the version (SB 1024) carried by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley that considers the concerns of rooftop solar companies and other interested groups, including creating a step-down process to gradually drop what energy companies owe solar owners until 2028. The amendment also extended the grandfathering period within the bill from 10 years to 20 years. Homeowners with working solar panels as of Jan. 1, 2023, would qualify for the exemption.

A similar amendment, with what McClure characterized as a “glide path,” is expected to come at the House bill’s next hearing, slated for the House Commerce Committee. Such a change would avoid an abrupt change to the solar industry that some say will stunt its growth.

At the solar industry’s current size, between 10 and 20 cents of Floridians’ monthly electric bills offset the cost for utility companies to pay residential solar producers, McClure said. If unchanged, that could grow to $5 or $10 per month at current growth projections. His bill would hope to intervene before solar starts shifting significant costs onto the general public.

“Rooftop solar, I believe, will be a part of our long-term solutions, but it cannot ride on the backs of the other ratepayers indefinitely,” McClure told subcommittee members.

Data released Tuesday by Mason-Dixon showed 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.

While the promise of a compromise amendment allayed some of the concerns from interest groups, which noted McClure’s cooperation, dozens from the public said they feared the bill could kill the solar industry. Some, like two children who testified against the bill, said the measure would hurt efforts to slow climate change.

Gustavo Panosso, founder and owner of Solcium Solar, told the subcommittee his company would have to nearly immediately lay off 50 employees, and nearly $800,000 in investments would evaporate.

“It would be financially devastating right now,” Panosso said.

However, McClure assumed Florida “is a pretty green pasture to harvest solar” and argued the industry would survive.

Still, that didn’t assuage the concerns of Democrats and Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini, as the bill passed 9-6.

Republicans like Jacksonville Rep. Jason Fischer argued utility costs are regressive, meaning the costs take up a disproportionate share of lower-income people’s pocketbooks. Democrats counter that the bill would make it harder for people who haven’t yet made the shift to solar to do so. For now, reining in the solar industry is premature, said Maitland Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, the top Democrat on the subcommittee.

The measure came under additional scrutiny in December after the Miami Herald and Floodlight reported that FPL 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 FPL’s involvement in the political process.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also issued her opposition to the bill in a statement ahead of the meeting.

“This bill would effectively pull the plug on the competitive solar market in our state and the 40,000 jobs it supports. It’s bad for consumers, bad for the environment and bad for our economy,” Fried said. “In the Sunshine State, we should be doing everything we can to support the solar industry, not handicapping it with bad bills like this.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • David Stites

    March 1, 2022 at 10:23 am

    Utility scale solar growth and its support of Clean Energy Connection will quickly build out Florida’s solar capacity to 20% to 25% share of total generating capacity that our four major utilities can efficiently and reliably manage with existing conventional sources.
    Expansion beyond that would require excess solar capacity to be off-grid with battery backup. Something that only wealthy homeowners and large commercial enterprises can afford.
    Dozens of 500+ Acre solar farms with combined tens of millions of highly efficient bifacial single-axis tracking panels will overtake and dominate rooftop production in a few years…as it should.
    Rooftop solar was a sluggish entry level experiment for the industry, but solar generation has been moving well beyond that point at utility scale over the past five years across our country. It’s time to let utility scale solar dominate to minimize fossile fuel dependency.with environmental and cost saving benefits to all customers.
    Customers who invested in rooftop solar as I did in 2015 to “Go Green” in exchange for “FETax credits and lifetime energy cost savings” should be supported under their original utility company’s net-metering T&Cs for the production lifetime of their Present Systems; be it 20, 30 or 40+ years.
    Net-metering beyond the FETax Credit phase out period for residential customers should be tge responsibility of utility companies and FL-PSC to determine based on supporting the share of new residential owned solar systems in conjunction with build-out of utility scale solar capacity.

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