By Carrie Schuman, Ph.D., SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager
Proposed bills in both the Florida House and Senate are now working their way through committee and are targeting the practice of net metering, dismantling an important incentive for homeowners who currently have or are considering installing rooftop solar panels. However, SCCF views rooftop solar as an important component of addressing climate change resilience.
Southwest Florida’s barrier island communities—like all other coastal communities across the state—face future flooding and other impacts associated with increasingly intense hurricanes and rainfall events and higher tides triggered by sea level rise. Projections for these stressors are often presented as a series of possible futures that incorporate both our best scientific understanding and an accounting for the influence of climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions. Solar power and other renewables offer energy alternatives that limit emissions and improve the suite of possible futures for which we are currently planning.
Rooftop solar-powered systems that have been installed with some form of backup energy storage are an important emergency management tool, allowing businesses and homeowners facing power outages from storms and or other service interruptions to maintain power for critical needs.
Solar also helps provide economic resilience. Small-scale solar capacity increased by 57 percent in Florida during 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That translates into jobs in Florida, which boasts the second largest solar workforce in the country, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Current utility-offered net metering programs, established in response to 2008 state legislation, account for the ebbs and flow of energy usage and generation. Someone using solar panels to produce energy will, at times, generate more power than they need, and at other times, when sunlight is limited, may need to draw on traditionally produced sources of electricity. Under these programs, residential and commercial electrical utility customers have the ability to feed excess solar-produced energy back into the main power grid while being compensated at a retail rate in the form of account credits which can be applied to their monthly bill.
However, current iterations of the proposed bill pare down the rates that customers will be reimbursed for their solar-energy generation. The main argument centers on the equitable shouldering of costs among utility customers. Bill proponents say that those taking advantage of net metering still utilize the electrical grid while not paying their fair share to maintain associated infrastructure while being subsidized by other customers.
This concept of “cost-shifting” has been debated and examined in other states that employ net metering, such as Nevada, Arizona, and California, and in most instances, benefits have been shown to outweigh potential costs. A 2016 Brookings Institute review across several studies reiterates this conclusion: “the economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers.”
With only 1 percent of Florida households currently generating their electricity through solar, there’s huge potential for growth. Cutting the reimbursement rate for excess home and commercial solar power generation will significantly temper the ability of rooftop solar users to recoup their investment while discouraging new rooftop solar endeavors.