As a former Florida Legislature staffer and a former public service commissioner, I cherished my duty to guard the public interest and seek a balance between the fiscal interests of consumers and monopoly utilities.
For this reason, I respectfully take issue with state Rep. Joe Gibbons' recent editorial focusing on affordable electricity costs. Gibbons' information is inaccurate and distorts the value of solar power in Florida.
In recent years, a dramatic drop in solar costs coupled with innovative financing options has enabled solar to flourish across the country. Net metering, employed in 43 states, allows consumers to share the benefits that result from fossil-fuel-free power generation.
Like rollover minutes on a phone bill, net metering gives customers fair credit on their utility bills for excess power sent to the grid after meeting their own energy needs. Net metering at the retail rate benefits all customers – even those without solar. A recent analysis determined the benefits of solar distributed generation are 30 percent greater than the costs.
And rooftop solar has moved beyond wealthy homeowners. The majority of new installations are for working people of median incomes. Solar leasing is opening the national rooftop market even more, because few people can afford to buy solar panels or homes with cash.
However, Florida's state legislators — at the behest of big utilities — refuse to remove our burdensome tax on larger or leased solar equipment, which would yield greater savings. Their refusal to act blocks the benefits of solar for the average Floridian and kills jobs in the process.
I applaud Gibbons for his concern for electricity costs in low-income households. However, I question his conclusion that solar power and net metering necessarily add to those costs.
The Rev. Kojo Nantambu, president of the Charlotte NAACP, asked, "How hypocritical can you be?" in criticizing Duke Energy for a series of rate increases in recent years while "attacking" North Carolina's net metering rules. A greater concern for Gibbons should be that every investor-owned utility in Florida raised rates in the last 18 months, not because of solar power costs, but due to poor planning. The growing congestion in Florida's electric grid is another concern as it drives up electricity costs and low-income households bear a disproportionate share.
The Florida Solar Weatherization Program is an excellent example of the direct use of solar in low-income households, yielding real and substantial cost benefits. There is growing evidence that renewable energy and energy efficiency tailored for low-income households produce the greatest economic benefits across all economic strata.
Neighboring Georgia, a state with half our population, added four times more solar in 2013 than the Sunshine State, and will have over 800 megawatts of solar by 2016. Georgia Power's Advanced Solar Initiative, which includes both utility-scale and distributed capacity, is not putting any upward pressure on rates.
By balancing the interests of the monopoly utilities and all customers, decision makers in Florida can help our state become a national model for a healthy market for solar power.
E. Leon Jacobs, Jr. is co-owner of Williams & Jacobs, Attorneys at Law. He is a former public service commission chair and a board member of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.