Floridians could soon have more options for powering their homes and businesses with solar energy. The Florida Supreme Court approved ballot language that, if passed by voters in 2016, will allow state residents the choice to work directly with solar providers and get solar-generated power without the upfront costs of buying panels.
That’s great news because Florida is one of only four states that, by law, prohibit this choice for customers, allowing only monopoly utility companies to sell power to captive customers.
Floridians for Solar Choice, a broad coalition of groups across the political spectrum, including conservative activists, business leaders and clean energy advocates, is working to give Floridians a voice and a choice on energy. They must still gather the rest of the necessary 683,149 signed petitions to secure a place on the 2016 ballot. I encourage voters to sign the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot petition so that everyone can have the benefits of solar power can be within reach.
Currently, you can buy your own solar panels, but the upfront cost is often a barrier. If so-called third-party sales of solar power become legal under the Solar Choice amendment, there will be increased opportunities for middle- and lower-income families to participate in the expanding rooftop solar market, harnessing energy from an abundant and free energy source — the sun.
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Naturally, the big power companies don’t want the competition. As the solar wars heat up in the Sunshine State, monopoly power companies are spewing out claims that the proposed Solar Choice amendment would be bad for consumers. It’s disheartening to see these false arguments made by outside groups like the Washington D.C.-based National Black Chamber of Commerce. For those of us that live in Florida, the claims simply don’t ring true. We have the facts.
When a solar provider owns the system, they pay the upfront cost and assume all the risk, while the energy consumer gets to lock in long-term savings from the power produced. And for tenants with no roof space, your landlord could invest in solar power and provide the power directly to you. In California, the country’s largest rooftop solar market, third-party financing has helped a new demographic of younger, less affluent, underserved populations adopt and enjoy the economic benefit of solar power.
Florida’s monopoly utilities view rooftop solar as a threat to their profits, so they claim that reduced demand for their power means that everybody else would pay more for the fixed costs of providing electricity. Yet, a solar customer’s reduced demand on the power grid is no different than when you make your home or business more energy efficient to reduce your power bills.
Studies in Nevada, California, Maine and Mississippi show that solar customers pay their fair share, and then some. Solar systems generate electricity at times when electricity demand is highest, particularly in sunny states like Florida where air-conditioners run at full blast at the hottest part of the day. This reduces fuel costs and can help prevent the need to build expensive new power plants, which is what increases rates. In addition, solar helps reduce pollution and health costs of energy production for which we all pay.
Solar jobs are growing quickly, increasing 86 percent in the past four years. Solar job creation is outpacing the general economy. Yet, with more than 9 million electric customers, Florida has a mere 8,500 rooftop solar systems. We can do better and bring solar jobs into local communities.
Floridians want solar choice, and they deserve the opportunity to vote for that choice. Recent polling showed that 82 percent of Floridians support changing the law to allow much needed competition for energy like we saw with cell phones. Don’t allow unsupported, biased and self-serving arguments by monopoly utilities and their hired guns hold us back.
Let’s stick to the facts: Solar power provides cost savings, job creation and health benefits across the country. Let’s bring those economic benefits to the Sunshine State so all of Florida’s families and businesses can enjoy the power of the sun.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard represents District 39, which includes parts of Miami-Dade and Collier counties, plus Hendry and Monroe counties.