Big Solar vs Rooftop Solar – a Needless Battle

April 17, 2022

I think we need both.
But a needless battle is going on across the country between Utilities, and small potential solar generators who wish to install systems on their rooftops or in backyards.
Basic conflict is that Utilities say, they are mandated to maintain the local grid, and need a certain amount of reliable revenue to do so.
Others maintain that the savings that accrue to utilities from “million rooftop” programs are considerable, since it can dampen the need for expensive “peaking” power plants that only come into use on hot summer days to serve air conditioning demand – exactly when that small solar will be doing the job.

One interesting aspect of this battle is the alliance of progressive environmentalists with free-market conservatives who tout “Energy Freedom”. It may be that technology and economics will settle the issue, as both solar panels and, critically, battery storage, keep getting cheaper, potentially robbing Utilities of critical Peak-hour revenue. Customers might store cheap electricity at night, and run on battery power during the high-price, high-profit peak daytime hours.
Utilities are hybrid monopolies created by legislation. Legislators can shape the way they are compensated and incentivized.
With the right kind of regulatory reform, they may be incented to become distributors and brokers of electricity, rather than sole providers.
Above, Michigan. Below, Florida.

WQCS Palm Beach County Fl:

Florida-April 12, 2022: A national non-profit conservative group is urging Governor DeSantis to veto a measure that would eliminate the net metering credit. If the measure becomes law, ‘Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship’ says it would gut the rooftop solar industry in Florida and lead to higher power costs for all. 

Dave Jenkins, ‘Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship’ President, says the bill would make rooftop solar panels un-affordable for most and lead to higher power bills statewide. “This legislation, which was written by FP&L,” said Jenkins. “It tries to eliminate roof top solar in the state of Florida by taking away the financial incentives.”

Net metering allows Florida Power and Light customers to connect their roof-top solar panels to FPL’s electric grid. If your solar cells produce more energy than you need, the excess power is sold back to FPL’s grid as a credit. HB 741, now before the governor, would eliminate that credit by the end of next year. 

The ‘Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship’ has 20,000 members nationwide and 6,000 here in Florida. “We’re conservatives who care about conservation and stewardship,” said Jenkins. “We believe in capitalism and the free market and we have these monopoly utilities that are hell bent on squashing competition.”

The power industry and others who support ending the net metering credit argue that solar powered homes are still connected to the grid, and the power lines and poles that make up that grid still need to be maintained and serviced by FPL crews. Supports of Bill 741 say customers without solar arrays are subsidizing the grid-servicing-costs for those with roof top solar panels who are taking advantage of the net metering credit.

However, the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates public utilities, has never ruled on, or even made a determination of, what net metering and roof top solar panels may cost a utility. In addition, homeowners with solar panels on their roofs are already required to pay a minimum monthly bill of $25 to cover their fair share of the utility’s fixed costs.

“They claim that people subsidize roof top solar customers which is not true,” said Jenkins. He says FP&L went ahead and put a subsidy for themselves in Bill 741. “They snuck in this subsidy provision that gives the utilities unlimited power to raise your electric bill to make up for and, get this, ‘projected revenue unrealized due to competition.'” 

If HB 741 is signed into law, Jenkins predicts power costs will “sky-rocket.”

“The more people that have solar panels on their roofs that are making electricity, the less future power stations they have to build,” he said. “Having a very diverse energy grid in Florida is the smart thing to do. You don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket.”

In response to a request fort comment, spokesperson Lisa Paul said FPL supports “net metering … but this program needs reform, because the monthly reimbursement occurs at the retail rate for electricity, even though rooftop solar customers are selling a wholesale product. Currently, the annual subsidy paid for by all FPL customers to support rooftop solar is approximately $30 million today. By 2025, that subsidy is expected to nearly triple to more than $80 million.”

Read the entire FPL statement in FULL below:

At FPL, we support all types of solar energy. We believe our customers and our state benefit the most when the largest amount of solar is installed at the lowest cost. Large-scale, universal solar is the fastest, most cost-effective way for us to bring more solar to Florida, while keeping bills low for customers over the long term.

We’ve built and operate more solar power plants than any other utility in the nation, have created tens of thousands of construction jobs across Florida and we have even more plants on the way as we work to install 30 million solar panels by 2025 – a plan that’s on budget and now five years ahead of schedule.

We also support net metering, the program that allows our customers who choose to generate power using solar panels on their roof to sell excess power back to FPL. But this program needs reform, because the monthly reimbursement occurs at the retail rate for electricity, even though rooftop solar customers are selling a wholesale product. Currently, the annual subsidy paid for by all FPL customers to support rooftop solar is approximately $30 million today. By 2025, that subsidy is expected to nearly triple to more than $80 million.

We are pleased Florida lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to pass bi-partisan legislation aimed at modernizing the state’s outdated net metering rules. The old rules have fueled a rapidly growing, multi-million-dollar annual subsidy paid for by the vast majority of Floridians who don’t have rooftop solar in support of those who do.

Data from across the country demonstrates how the rooftop solar industry continued to grow, and saw only minimal decline in adoption, after net metering reform. For example, Arizona implemented revised net metering rules in January 2017 and there has been virtually no change in the monthly growth rate. Simply put, the rooftop solar industry was not run out of business.

FPL leads the nation in expanding cost-effective, large-scale solar, and we also support our customers who choose to buy private rooftop solar systems. This legislation would take an important step toward balancing the costs of solar expansion in the state.

While it would still potentially lock in hundreds of millions of dollars in extra charges for non-rooftop customers, it importantly directs the Florida Public Service Commission to phase out this regressive tax and make solar energy more equitable for all Floridians, not just the fortunate few.

Lisa Paul
FPL Spokesperson
Marketing & Communications

4 Responses to “Big Solar vs Rooftop Solar – a Needless Battle”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    Distributed solar increases the amount of utility solar that can be integrated into the grid. Solar increases the amount of wind that can be integrated, and wind increases the amount of solar. (For example, solar peaks at mid-day in the summer; adding little or no storage means all the generating capacity needed to supply power in late afternoon/evenings in the winter still has to be kept. If on the other hand a grid concentrates on wind peaking at night in the winter, and there’s not enough solar or storage to balance it, the generation has to be kept. Only with enough wind and solar (for example) can virtually unused generation be “retired”. (I like the surreptitious hit-person sound of that.) There’s a cool graph about that in the following article.

    David Roberts on DERs, oddly, one of the best, most fascinating and perspective-changing articles I’ve read by one of my favorite climate writers:

  2. gmrmt Says:

    How will elecricity utilities impose fees on new properties that have never been connected to the grid who go with PV and batteries? How do you impose fees on older properties but not new ones and have that stand in court? Batteries are getting cheaper all the time and make sense for time shifting even if you don’t have PVs on your roof. That’s a steady bleed of income right there.
    Seems to me the writing is on the wall fo utilities and any fees they can lobby legislatures into imposing is just spitting into the wind.
    Show me the electricity utility that, in 2010, looked at the obvious trajectory of PV prices and said “Let’s install PVs ourselves. We have a large force of people trained at dealing with electrical installations who can work at height and can be easily trained up for PV installation. We already own most of the vehicles and equipment we’d need allowing us to undercut prices of competitors and we can offer a “Grid as your Battery” model to lower the cost and give us steady revenue. In fact we have the financial underpinnings to underwrite long term pay over time contracts with guaranteed maintenance and repair and replacement deals, Long term regular payment is what lenders and shareholders love.”
    They can still get on the battery bandwagon. Buy in bulk, flexibility in size of installation, rent to own and discounts for allowing the utility to draw on the batteries and later replenish which would allow them to ballance their loads more cheaply and easily.
    As installations get cheaper, new properties will increasingly opt for not hooking up to the grid followed by older ones unplugging requiring upkeep cost to be covered by fewer customers. Of course when the deathspiral becomes obvious the government will buy out the utility and all taxpayers will end up paying for it but since this is projected to happen before opt out reaches 30% and cutting off over 70% of peoples’ electricity would thoroughly trash the economy, I don’t see much alternative.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Why not a collection of non-profit corporations? Taxes pay the costs of an umbrella authority, everybody pays the authority for electricity, who just passes the money on to independent generators of every size for electricity, (minus whatever taxes, fees etc. need to be collected for others), coordinates building the generation that’s needed, oversees and pays the wiries, the transmission corporation to maintain the grid. Nobody’s income depends on o’er-building generation or transmission, or o’er-producing leccy, though it would be a good idea to have an incentive for one of these or an independent organization to create and/or implement conservation programs, maybe some approved by voters in ballot initiatives.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Of course people should be allowed to add solar to their homes and (if they do it within code) be paid for it, but not at retail rates. It’s not cost-effective for the power needs of the community at large since they don’t provide a lot of the overhead that allows for utilities to charge retail rates.

    I’ll go with a fixed subsidy or discount for homeowners installing solar (whether fed back or stored in their own battery), but we don’t need to screw with the utilities that are responsible for supply in a way that prosumers are not.

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