Florida, the Sunshine State, is infamously unfriendly to the solar market. Despite the abundance of prime sunshine, which ranks the state third in the nation for solar potential, less that 1/10 of 1 percent of Florida’s energy comes from solar photovoltaics. Floridians for Solar Choice is a grassroots ballot initiative that is trying to move beyond the status quo by removing the barrier that currently makes 3rd party power purchasing agreements (PPAs) illegal in Florida.
The Floridians for Solar Choice initiative is a movement by Florida’s citizens and businesses who are fed up with the monopoly utilities’ influence at the Florida Legislature that has prevented the development of solar in the Sunshine State.
Florida is one of just four states that expressly prohibit the PPA financing model. The coalition is working to place a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would remove this PPA ban and provide meaningful opportunities for Floridians to power their homes and businesses with solar, living up to our Sunshine State moniker.
While Floridians for Solar Choice is working to open the solar market in the Sunshine State, a deceptive counter-campaign has sprung up in the last two weeks in an effort to maintain the status quo where Florida’s monopoly utilities control and squelch the development of the state’s solar industry. NextEra and its subsidiary, Florida Power and Light (FPL), are leading this deception. The companies have admitted to participating in writing the amendment, which is an obvious attempt to confuse voters and protect NextEra’s monopoly subsidiary in Florida, FPL. NextEra’s attack on solar choice in Florida comes at a particularly interesting time, given its recent moves to control the solar market in Hawaii as well.
NextEra Energy is in the midst of a proposed purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries for $4.3 billion dollars. You might think this would be a welcome move in solar-friendly Hawaii, however NextEra continues to meet opposition in Hawaii based on reasons of distrust and concerns regarding customer-owned solar. In a news conference earlier this week, Governor David Ige officially opposed the deal stating: “We are taking the position that the merger, as proposed at this point, is unacceptable. And the responses given to the specific questions and challenges raised were not satisfactory.”
The challenges he spoke of concern NextEra’s glaring absence of commitments to allowing and protecting customer-owned solar and a lack of transparency and honesty about NextEra’s business practices within Hawaii, should the merger move forward. Sounds an awful lot like the concerns that Florida residents are dealing with today.
While NextEra operates freely in wholesale markets across the country, its subsidiary, FPL, has the state of Florida in an anti-competitive lockdown when it comes to customer choice on solar. What does that mean for Floridians? The Sunshine State has very few customer-owned residential or commercial solar systems relative to states that allow competition and free-market principles. In fact, the lack of competition was a major driver in launching the Floridians for Solar Choice petition.
Consumer choice is at the very heart of the American free market. Third-party PPAs have fostered significant residential and commercial solar development in other states – and they can do the same in the Sunshine State. As the price of solar power continues to drop, Floridians should have the option to buy energy directly from solar providers to power their homes and businesses instead of being forced to buy only from monopoly utilities. Likewise, Florida solar companies should have the option to enter the energy market using business models that have been proven successful in pro-PPA states.
Floridians for Solar Choice has achieved unprecedented support in this effort with over 50 coalition partners that encompass the political spectrum from the tea party to the green party. The coalition also includes associations representing Florida’s solar installers, retailers, and hotels and restaurants – all of which employ hundreds of thousands of Floridians statewide.
The Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative, which now has over 150,000 signatures, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court for approval, and we are confident that they will rule in our favor.
We urge people to visit www.flsolarchoice.org and see how the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative will open the solar market in Florida to allow for meaningful levels of solar development in the Sunshine State. To be rated third nationally for solar potential but to be generating less than 1 percent of total energy through solar is the very definition of an untapped market. NextEra may want to keep it that way, but Floridians for Solar Choice is hoping to pave the way for an already proven alternative.
Mike Antheil is the Executive Director of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FlaSEIA), which is a founding member of Floridians for Solar Choice.