Thursday, April 30, 2015

The False Florida Solar Choice

Floridian's for Solar Choice touts themselves as a grassroots organization, a combination of environmental groups, libertarians, and some tea partiers, to "allow more homes and businesses to generate electricity by harnessing the power of the sun."
Floridians for Solar Choice is promoting a Florida constitutional amendment ballot initiative that would give Florida’s families and businesses the right to choose solar power. Past legislative efforts to overcome barriers to solar choice have been thwarted by large monopoly power companies like Florida Power and Light (FPL) and Duke Energy. These big power companies do not want to lose their exclusive hold on Florida’s electric customers or their wallets.
They are working to get over 600,000 signatures across Florida required to the the amendment on the 2016 ballot.

We are sympathetic to consumer choice, as well as some of the issues with the regulated power companies and the PSC.

We attended a debate about the Solar Choice Amendment hosted by Tampa 912 on March 24. Speakers were Tory Perfetti, frpm Floridians for Solar Choice, and James Taylor of the Heartland Institute. It did get rather testy at times.

Youtube playlist of Solar Choice Debate, March 24

But does Floridian's for Solar Choice constitutional amendment make sense?

We have our doubts.

To be clear, the amendment is limited to "small scale" generation, and selling solar power to contiguously located businesses and consumers. For example, a shopping center could sell solar power to contiguous tenants, or an apartment complex may do the same. The nearby solar powered apartments may not sell solar power to houses.

We have our doubts about policy issues best settled by the legislature showing up as constitutional amendment. The constitution should be about State of Florida governance, not policy.  How our energy is supplied and regulated are policy, not governance issues.  We've seen enough of the policy issues as amendments, from pregnant pigs, to classroom size, to high speed rail.

And we note that there are bills filed this term in the Florida legislature addressing the issue, such as SB 1118, which allows renewable energy source, that Floridian's for Solar Choice could have worked with:
Renewable Energy; Authorizing an owner of a commercial or industrial business or a contracted third party to install, maintain, and operate a renewable energy source device on or about the structure within which the business operates or on a property owned or leased by the business; authorizing utilities to recover the full actual cost of providing services to an energy-producing business or its customers, under certain circumstances; authorizing customers to challenge such cost recovery and receive refunds following a successful challenge, etc.
However, Floridian's for Solar Choice came out against SB 1118.
"We are opposing SB 1118 very strongly as written," said Debbie Dooley, one of the organizers of the petition drive.
We have our doubts about the wording of the ballot initiative, starting with the first sentence:
It shall be the policy of the state to encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.
Emphasis mine. The "encourage and promote" clause is troublesome, since it in effect will require the state, as amended into the constitution, the supreme law of the State of Florida, to provide ongoing incentives and preferences for solar generation over other power sources. Any pro-solar legislator will be able to take this and run to subsidize solar with this language.
This section is intended to accomplish this purpose by limiting and preventing regulatory and economic barriers that discourage the supply of electricity generated from solar energy sources to customers who consume the electricity at the same or a contiguous property as the site of the solar electricity production. Regulatory and economic barriers include rate, service and territory regulations imposed by state or local government on those supplying such local solar electricity, and imposition by electric utilities of special rates, fees, charges, tariffs, or terms and conditions of service on their customers consuming local solar electricity supplied by a third party that are not imposed on their other customers of the same type or class who do not consume local solar electricity.
Likewise, the subsequent sentences constrain regulations (not necessarily bad), but again, sets up a preference by lowering regulatory hurdle for solar in the constitution. This is worrisome, since there are regulatory and technical challenges to consider. It's not that easy to switch power from solar to traditional power when the sun goes down, keeping the precise power flow to keep the lights on, and avoid damaging appliances or equipment due to a power  spike. What standards will be in place for the solar power providers?

Rooftop solar panels
Additionally, solar is highly subsidized with various federal incentives. Nearly all solar installations receive subsidies $39B a year from the U.S. taxpayer, yet solar is only 0.6% of total power generation.  We've established this amendment sets a preference for solar, with potential for more state incentives, with more installations, and therefore more federal subsidies.  This is just even more bailout for the solar industry.

Regardless, we are for more deregulation and more choice, even for power generation and distribution. Floridians' for Solar Choice could have taken their "free market" message to heart, and drafted their language to promote deregulation and energy choice, and worked with the state legislature. But they are only for solar, not about choice.

They are picking a winner for themselves.

This will likely lead to a preference for solar as a policy over other energy sources.

Picking solar as a winner over other energy generation is not a free market solution.

Floridian's for Solar Choice will limit your choice, not expand your choice.

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