State regulators give major residential solar company good news in the Sunshine State

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida.

The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the door to making solar more widely available throughout Florida.

“Residential equipment leasing makes solar more attractive for some customers, and today’s decision confirms that Florida’s ratepayers have that option,” Art Graham, Public Service Commission chairman, said in a news release.

In Florida, a company must be a regulated utility — governed by the PSC — if it charges for electricity. In this case, if Sunrun had charged for the energy its solar equipment generated, it would have been considered a utility and subject to regulation.

But Sunrun doesn’t fall into this category, the PSC said, because it charges customers a fixed amount for the equipment, which is leased for 20 years. To comply with current laws, the leases must be only for the equipment. Even though that has always been legal, it was highly expensive until a measure was passed in August 2016 to roll back taxes on solar equipment.

A proposal to amend Florida’s constitution to allow consumers to buy electricity from a third party died in committee before ever reaching the Constitution Revision Commission’s final votes as a full body.

Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the political arm of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Sunrun’s entry into leasing solar equipment in Florida is “a big deal.”

“Now you’re going to see other people wanting to do that,” she said. “They broke the door down.”

A major obstacle for Floridians installing solar has been the up-front cost, which many families can’t afford even with the promise of long-term savings. But under this ruling, Sunrun will allow no money down at the start of renting.

“It’s just one more way to get wide adoption and deployment of solar,” Glickman said.

Industry groups, such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, consider this a boon to the solar industry.

“The Florida PSC’s unanimous vote today to authorize residential solar leasing in Florida is a great step forward,” Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, said in a statement. “It will help make solar more widely available to customers in the Sunshine State, provided that Florida’s successful net energy metering rules remain available.”

The Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the PSC, also views the move positively. “To the extent that customers have more options to manage their electric bill the way that they would like to with the resources that they would want to power their houses, I think that’s a good thing for the state,” said Charles Rehwinkel, lawyer with OPC.

However, there is a regulatory downside for consumers. Because Sunrun isn’t considered a utility, its customers won’t be represented for Sunrun-related issues by the OPC.

Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Contact these reporters at mcarollo@tampabay.com and emahoney@tampabay.com.
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