Brenda Probasco worries proposed changes to Florida’s solar rules will hamper renewable energy growth in the Sunshine State and will hurt rooftop installers and their workers.
She’s not alone as installers and solar advocates battle utilities over net-metering rules.
“We’re all going to be out of business,” said Probasco, who is general manager of Voltage Pro Solar & Electric Inc.
The solar company does residential rooftop and commercial installations in the Tampa Bay area as well as the Space Coast and other areas.
Probasco, who lives in Gulfport, and other solar installers and advocates worry about the impact of proposed legislation dealing with Florida’s net-metering rules.
Net-metering allows residential and commercial solar users who generate their own electricity to sell that power back to the grid. They can receive compensation or credits for that surplus energy.
Net-metering policies differ by state and there have been battles in other legislatures sometimes pitting utilities against solar installers and renewable energy advocates.
In Florida, the latter groups oppose legislation in Tallahassee that would change net-metering rules.
Senate Bill 1024 and House Bill 741 would change the rates at which utilities buy excess solar energy from rooftop users.
Currently, utilities purchase surplus solar energy at a retail rates. The bills would change that to a cheaper wholesale rate. They also originally had a 10-year grandfather clause for existing solar customers.
“That is pulling the rug out from under people,” said Bryan Jacob, solar program director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
The renewable group opposes utilities’ efforts on the solar front at the Florida Legislature.
“We’re not fond of them,” Jacob said.
Lawmakers are looking at adjusting the phase-in of new rules from 10 to 20 years. The shorter grandfather clause and phase in was a major concern to solar advocates.
A 20-year phase-in or grandfather clause would fit more with solar panel warranties and the interests of homeowners with rooftop panels, renewable energy advocates contend.
Florida Power & Light is one of the main proponents of broader changes to the net-metering rules.
FPL spokeswoman Lisa Paul said the utility supports solar growth but says the state needs to revamp the rules.
“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. This growing multi-million-dollar subsidy is why we believe Florida’s more-than-decade-old net metering rules should be modernized, not eliminated. We do not oppose net metering; we oppose the subsidy received by 0.5% of our customers and paid for by the other 99.5%,” Paul said in a statement to The Gabber.
She pointed to FPL’s utility-scale solar construction efforts including plans to install 30 million panels statewide by 2030. “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,” Paul said.
FPL backs the legislative efforts in Tallahassee.
“We support this legislation that aims to create an equitable playing field for everyone, because left unchecked, current rooftop solar rules in Florida will cost FPL customers even more in the coming years,” Paul said. “We believe anyone should have the right and ability to put solar on their roof if they choose to, but we do not believe everyone should be forced to pay for that decision.”
Probasco worries about utility-driven changes to net-metering rules and solar policies costing jobs.
They’re going to extinguish us – squish us like a big,” said Probasco, who wants renewable energy advocates to reach out to Pinellas County’s state lawmakers on the net-metering issue.
Her company has six employees with pay generally in the $20 to $25 per hour range. She worries about what will happen to those jobs and others in the industry in Florida.
“We’re talking about wiping out the entire industry. These are the highest-paid jobs they have had in their lives,” she said.
Rooftop solar accounts for approximately 40,000 jobs in Florida, according to the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association.
Jacob said Florida has a 1% solar penetration rate. That lags other states such as California, Arizona and Massachusetts which have double digit rates, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Still, Florida ranked 3rd for direct solar jobs and new installations in 2021, according to SEIA.
The two sides of the net-metering fight differ on how to keep that renewable momentum going.
Jacob also worries about the impact on installers and other businesses in the solar segment.
“They will have to scale back. Jobs will be lost,” he said.
Jacobs said utilities have sought to change net-metering rules for their benefit via ballot measures and utility regulatory boards in Florida and other states.
Probasco said the job impacts will extend to logistics and other operations dedicated to solar in the state and will hurt The Sunshine State’s renewable reputation.
“There are engineering firms that do not nothing but solar,” she said.
She also points to recent state-approved utility rate increases and fears more legislation from utilities aimed at rooftop solar.
“They’re going to extinguish us – squish us like a big,” said Probasco, who wants renewable energy advocates to reach out to Pinellas County’s state lawmakers on the net-metering issue.
On the other side, utilities said current solar rules were set in 2008 and need to be reformed and take into account the prices of panels.
“Tampa Electric strongly supports customer rooftop solar because it is good for the environment, helping us all lower carbon emissions faster. Affordability is a priority, which is why we want fair, cost-effective solar that benefits all customers into the future,” TECO spokesperson Cherie Jacobs said.
“Under Florida’s current net-metering policies, the 1% of customers with rooftop solar are benefitting at the expense of the remaining 99% who are shouldering the cost of maintenance for the overall energy grid. The time is right to refresh the 2008 net-metering laws, making them more appropriate for the current market, as well as fair to the 99 percent of customers without solar panels,” the TECO spokesperson said.
Duke Energy, which serves Pinellas County, is not actively part of the net-metering legislative push this session.
“Duke Energy Florida is not proposing any legislation regarding net metering. The company is still reviewing to determine our position. Simply put, Duke Energy is a strong supporter of solar and is committed to providing reliable, dependable, and cost-efficient clean energy to our customers,” the utility said in a statement.
“Duke Energy Florida leads the state in the amount of customer-owned renewable interconnections, which includes on average, over 1,250 customers per month of customer-owned solar generator interconnections,” the statement continued. “Duke Energy Florida currently has over 430 megawatts and over 49,000 customers with solar generation at their home or business that are relying on the power grid and using the state’s net metering policy.”