The utilities’ point that large, fixed costs remain as more people opt for solar is plausible. Yet solar-power generation independent of the utilities would shrink their market share and profits.
Back in 1980, the Florida Legislature passed a law that stated “no governing body may adopt an ordinance which prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the installation of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy devices based on renewable resources.” Thus, for more than 35 years, the state of Florida has blocked the government — and even homeowners associations, as the law has evolved — from interfering in its citizens’ ability to trap sunlight to power their homes or businesses.
You’d never know this, however, from reading Amendment 1, the solar-related ballot measure that voters will decide on Nov. 8. According to its summary, the constitutional revision “establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.”
While Florida allows people to buy or lease solar panels outright, it is also just one of five states that expressly forbids power purchase agreements, or PPAs. Under such arrangements, customers strike a deal with a solar company that supplies and installs the equipment at minimal or no cost and retains ownership of it for a set period of time. During that time, typically anywhere from 10 years to 25 years, the customer buys the power from the solar company instead of a utility. The power is usually sold at a reduced rate, relative to what the utility charges.
Under Florida law, customers can buy solar equipment, which can rival the cost of a new mid-sized car, or lease it from a third party, which must sell the power generated to a utility that, in turn, sells it back to the customer. It’s outlawed, however, for someone else to own the equipment and sell it directly to a consumer.
Big, investor-owned utilities, such as Duke Energy and Florida Power, want to keep it that way and drafted the amendment to retain the status quo. Amendment 1 would do that by changing nothing under existing law and by allowing the utilities to charge solar customers additional fees or surcharges so non-solar consumers are not subsidizing the maintenance of the existing power grid.
Amendment 1 grants no additional rights to everyday Floridians. If voters want to support a true free market for energy consumption in this state and help consumers in the process, they should reject Amendment 1, which merely keeps people under the thumb of big utilities, and start advocating for allowing PPAs.
It’s true that would require trusting the Legislature to craft such a plan or adopting another constitutional amendment to create that avenue. Those are long shots, but if Amendment 1 passes, we may as well write the obituary for the solar-power market in the Sunshine State.
This editorial originally appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News.