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Monday, 26 September 2016 13:27

CONSUMER SOLAR ENERGY IN FLORIDA: Why So Little? Featured

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Monopoly utilities want to
extinguish the independent rooftop
solar market in America to protect
their socialist control of how we get
our electricity. They have engaged
in class warfare and tried to sabotage
net metering, a billing method
that gives individual homeowners
fair credit for power produced on
their own rooftops. They
would like to deny us Americans energy
choice and maintain their monopoly
status.
SOLAR POWER IN FLORIDA
Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014
re¬election campaign took in more
than $1.1 million from the state’s
utility companies. Back when Dr.know how Tallahassee has an
in¬group and an out¬group?” said
Kreegel, (a physician in Punta Gorda
who left the House in 2012.) “I
didn’t know I was on the outside
until I went against the public utilities,
and then — holy hell.” Kreegel
isn’t alone. Other state lawmakers
and lobbyists say that anyone who
has attempted to expand the rooftop
solar industry has been ostracized
and seen their proposals go nowhere.
The reason, some lawmakers
say, is that Florida’s largest utility
companies have invested heavily in
state political campaigns to fend off
competition from rooftop solar
power. An analysis of campaign
records by the Florida Center for Investigative
Reporting shows that the
utility companies have sunk $12 million
into the campaigns of state lawmakers
since 2010. That money
comes from the bills paid by customers
of the state’s four largest utilities
— Duke Energy, Gulf Power,
Florida Power & Light, and Tampa
Electric, or TECO. Those donations
include contributions to every member
of the Senate and House leadership.
The recipient of the most utility
money since 2010 is Gov. Rick
Scott’s 2014 re¬election campaign,
which took in more than $1.1 million
through two political action
committees.
THE QUESTION
“Why don’t we have a bigger
solar industry in Florida?” asked
Mike Antheil, a West Palm Beach
lobbyist who represents solar companies.
“The answer is simple.
Every kilowatt of solar you produce
on your roof is one less kilowatt that
the utilities can sell you.” The state’s
largest utilities declined to comment
on specific questions. In an email,
Duke Energy spokesperson Sterling
Ivey said the company could not
comment “since there is pending/
proposed legislative bills that we are
actively monitoring.” Cherie Jacobs,
a spokesperson for Tampa Electric,
or TECO, said: “We participate in
the political process, we support
both parties, and we support candidates
who focus on building the
economy and on creating jobs.” FPL
spokesperson Alys Daly wrote in an
email that the company supports
“customers who want to install their
own solar panels, and we take special
care to serve the specialized
needs of our solar customers.” With
little support in Tallahassee, a coalition
of conservative and liberal
groups hopes to make Florida friendlier
to rooftop solar energy with a
2016 ballot initiative. Before that
happens, though, Florida’s four
largest power companies may see
their influence grow. There’s proposed
legislation circulating in Tallahassee
now that would stop
homeowners from selling extra energy
created from solar back to utility
companies, perhaps the biggest
blow yet to Florida’s fledgling solar
industry.
Big Energy’s Campaign Cash
Only a small portion of the
$12 million spent since 2010 by
electric companies on political campaigns
went directly to candidates.
Instead, most of the utility money
went to political action committees
and political parties. Half of the
money, $6.68 million, went to the
Republican Party of Florida. The
second¬largest recipient of electric
company money, the Florida Democratic
Party, took in $1.8 million.
Donations of this type allow
the utilities to avoid state campaign
contribution limits, which cap donations
to Florida legislative candidates
at $1,000 per election cycle.
Conservative political action
committees top the list of those receiving
contributions, with the
Florida Conservative Majority, Freedom
First Committee, and House
Republican Campaign Committee all
receiving over six figures each from
the utilities.
Among the politicians who
have received power company
money, Gov. Scott tops the list. The
utilities gave $15,444 directly to
Scott’s campaign fund. They also
gave $600,000 to Scott’s Let Get to
Work PAC. The utilities handed another
$670,000 to the RGA Florida
PAC, which in turn gave $500,000 to
the Let’s Get to Work PAC. That
puts the electric company contributions
to Scott, both directly and indirectly,
at $1.1
Paige Kreegel was a state representative
in 2009, he had an idea that he
thought simply made sense. Florida,
the Sunshine State, should become a
model for solar power.
As chair of the state House’s
Committee on Energy, Kreegel was
in a position to change Florida laws
that have restricted the growth of
energy¬producing rooftop solar panels
on homes in Florida. As a selfdescribed
free¬market Republican,
Kreegel saw the issue as getting
government out of the way of a
growing industry. But Kreegel soon
discovered that his fellow committee
members wouldn’t even discuss
solar energy, and the fact that he
brought it up made him an outcast in
Tallahassee. When he walked the
halls of the Legislature, other lawmakers
would turn around and shut
their doors. “Youmillion. In the Legislature, all 16
state senators and representatives
who make up the legislative leadership
have received utility money. In
total, they have pulled in more than
$200,000 from utilities and their interest
groups. Those donations to the
leadership allow the power companies
to keep pro-solar bills from getting
anywhere, said state Rep.
Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, a
supporter of the rooftop solar industry.
“We in Florida are stuck in the
stone age. This is probably the most
byzantine energy legislation in the
country,” Dudley said. Dudley has
filed legislation that would have increased
renewable energy in the
state, including solar, but none of his
ideas have made it to the House
floor.
Taking on the utilities has
made him an outcast, Dudley said.
He was talking with an acquaintance
at an event last year in St. Petersburg
when a utility lobbyist walked up
and said, “Oh my gosh, do you know
who this is? The devil’s holy man,”
Dudley recalled. “It was loud and
unpleasant, and it became very uncomfortable.”
As for Kreegel, the former
state representative initially had support
from the state’s utilities. That’s
because Kreegel opposed mandates
that required a percentage of the
state’s energy come from renewable
power, including solar. But he lost
that support when he worked to remove
restrictions on rooftop solar,
which Kreegel says is a big reason
he’s now out of politics. In 2012,
Kreegel ran in the Republican primary
for the U.S. House seat in Fort
Myers vacated by Republican
Trey Radel,
who resigned
after being arrested for
attempting to purchase cocaine from
an undercover police officer in
Washington, D.C. Supporting solar
power back in 2009 caused him to
be labeled a nonconformist, Kreegel
said, and he didn’t get support of the
Republican Party. He finished third.
“The whole point was that government
shouldn’t be impeding in good
business,” Kreegel said of his idea to
support solar. “But I learned you
don’t go against the utilities.”
Failed Reforms
The Florida law that has restricted
the growth of the rooftop
solar industry has been on the books
for nearly a century. It was written to
give utilities a regional monopoly on
power production, avoiding a tangle
of power lines strung up by competing
companies. The law didn’t affect
the solar industry
until the last several
years, when the
price of solar panels
made it cost¬efficient
enough for
rooftop solar to
compete with utility
companies.
With ample sunshine,
only two
other states, California
and Texas,
have more
rooftop solar power potential
than Florida, according to the
U.S. Department of Energy. Yet the
state ranks 13th in installed solar capacity.
The average home solar array
now costs $15,000 to $30,000 and
can pay for itself in 10 to 20 years,
said Ray Johnson, president and
founder of the U.S. Solar Institute,
an Oakland Park, Fla., school that
teaches technicians how to install the
panels. (Daly, the FPL spokesperson,
claimed in an email that solar is not
cost effective and instead pointed to
the utility’s “highly efficient system
and low electric rates.”) The problem
is that few homeowners want to
pay up front for the system, Johnson
said. In about half of the states, solar
companies can install panels for free
and then sell the power to the home
or business owner at a rate lower
than local utilities, paying for the
system over time.
These third¬party sales are
generally illegal under the Florida
law that gives utility companies a
local monopoly on supplying power.
Since Kreegel’s unsuccessful attempt
to expand solar power in
2009, other lawmakers have tried as
well, only to watch their bills languish
in committee. State Sen. Jeff
Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, submitted
a bill last year that would have given
a tax break to businesses and homeowners
who installed solar.
The law would have meant
the property tax value of the home or
business could not increase as a result
of the value of the solar panels.
His bill never received a
hearing in Senate committees. This
year, Brandes has filed a new bill
that would allow businesses that produce
extra energy from solar cells to
sell that energy to neighbors, but it
faces an uphill climb in the Legislature.
“Here’s how the power companies
control the Legislature: They
ask the chairman of committees to
never meet on the issue,” Brandes
said. more next issue.............
Submitted by
Keith Wehunt

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