Increasing Florida’s Solar Footprint is Important,But Only if Done Right
By Rev. Don Tolliver
Tallahassee Chapter of the National Action Network
Is Florida really the “Sunshine State?” Despite ranking third in rooftop solar energy potential, Florida ranks only 13th in the nation in the amount of solar energy generated.
Florida certainly needs to grow its solar footprint, but as it does that Floridians also need to avoid the negative financial impact an increase in rooftop solar would have on those not generating solar energy.
This concern comes from the fact that despite the high upfront cost associated with purchase and installation, early adopters of rooftop solar in Florida receive savings through net metering – a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. The trouble lies in the fact that many, particularly minority and low and middle-income families, cannot afford solar panels. Thus these non-solar families wind up paying more for the grid that wealthier solar households use.
The Florida National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been providing a voice for low-income and minority consumers of energy on issues impacting safety, affordability and environmental pollution. Its views have been made crystal clear:
“For years the Florida NAACP has been advocating against what equates to subsidizing the wealthy at the expense of low-income Floridians – robbing the poor and middle class to give to the rich. We are strong supporters of energy conservation and programs that promote renewable energy sources, including rooftop solar, but we need consumer protections in place. And right now, they’re not.”
The Florida NAACP has been paying extra attention to two opposing coalitions, each with a proposed solar amendment to the state constitution. While both groups agree that rooftop solar should and will be an essential resource in the state’s energy future, their competing amendments are very different in emphasis.
The first to enter the fray was Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC), whose amendment would increase solar production by allowing out of state solar power providers to enter and do business in the state with little regulatory oversight.
The second initiative came this spring from Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS). The CSS amendment is focused on protecting Floridians from consumer fraud and exploitation. The CSS amendment would make it a constitutional right in Florida for individuals and businesses to own or lease solar equipment to generate their own electricity.
It would also allow the continued regulation of solar to protect the health, safety and welfare of consumers. This includes ensuring that the solar choices of wealthy customers will not be subsidized by those without solar – by choice or lack of finances.
“Our Smart Solar Amendment establishes the right to solar in Florida’s constitution,” CSS Co-Chair Dick Batchelor wrote to Utility Dive. “It makes it a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment to generate their own electricity.”
The Florida NAACP has joined the National Congress of Black Women and the National Black Chamber of Commerce among others in support of the CSS amendment, declaring:
“We have promoted an approach to furthering the development of solar in Florida by ensuring that consumer protections and policies adhere to the principles of equity, access,
and affordability for all consumers. It is our hope that the Smart Solar Amendment will ensure that rooftop solar programs become more accessible for the poor while at the same time eliminating regressive programs which currently unfairly tax middle and low-income families throughout the Sunshine State.”