State regulators should back solar-friendly policies
As the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael approaches, many Floridians - particularly those of us here in the Panhandle - are reminded of the extreme stress severe storms bring on. While an oncoming hurricane can make us feel helpless, we can regain a measure of control through actions we take to prepare for the disrupting challenge of power outages.
In my neighborhood in Apalachicola, my house is often the only one that still has electricity when outages occur. Thanks to my solar-plus-battery storage system, my home can power itself without fully depending on our utility company. We believe so strongly in solar energy that we also have a vacation home in Bonifay completely powered by solar panels. It’s resiliency against power outages during storms creates peace of mind for me and my neighbors, who enjoyed our "juice" after they lost power during Michael.
The concept of energy independence is what first led me to look into solar technology. We installed our first solar panel on our sailboat back in 1984 and now have 34 solar panels on our Apalachicola home and a dozen on our Bonifay home. Beyond the peace of mind I get when storms come through, I also reap the financial savings of home solar.
That’s thanks to a consumer-friendly policy called net metering. Net metering is a critical factor when installing rooftop solar because it allows solar users to receive credits for any surplus energy their system produces – power that’s fed back to the grid and sold by the utility for others to use.
With my solar-plus-battery storage system, I can rest assured I’ll have power for the things I need most, including my refrigerator and freezer. It also helps me lower my utility bills each month.
Unfortunately, Florida’s consumer-friendly net metering policies are now in jeopardy. State regulators are hosting a workshop next month where they will discuss changes that could dramatically limit the feasibility of home solar for countless Floridians - potentially eliminating net metering altogether.
Before the Florida Public Service Commission takes any action that could eliminate solar rights in the Sunshine State, it should carefully consider the needs of the more than 59,000 Floridians who use rooftop solar. Upending net metering is a direct assault on the homeowners and businesses - hardworking folks like me - who have already invested in solar energy.
It’s also concerning that these regulators would consider such an important policy change when citizens are appropriately focused on the dual threats of a global health crisis and an active hurricane season. These challenges minimize the opportunity for public input that could help policymakers avoid changes that carry unintended consequences.
While natural disasters may be unpredictable, our opportunity to prepare for them doesn’t have to be. Home solar is a cost-effective solution for so many, especially those in more rural communities who may have to wait weeks if a storm knocks out utility infrastructure.
Before regulators move forward with any action on net metering, I encourage them to look for input from those of us who have seen the benefits of net metering and home solar. I’ll be happy to tell them – and so will the neighbors in Bonifay who enjoyed my electricity during the weeks our neighborhood went without power back in 2018.
Kathy Kirkland is a solar user who lives in Apalachicola.