WINTER PARK, Fla. — A controversial bill blunting the benefits of installing solar panels is on its way to a vote in the Florida House Wednesday.
Meanwhile, some local communities are scrambling to take advantage of those incentives before they’re eliminated.
Homeowners in Seminole County are teaming up to get a better deal on their panels. However, Florida lawmakers want to cut the discount power customers get when they sell their extra energy back to the grid, much to the delight of the power companies.
University of Central Florida Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett says solar energy is an investment that keeps stacking up. He says the dozens of solar panels on his own roof have cut his monthly power bill in half since they were installed four years ago.
“You don’t have to do anything with them,” Jewett said. “Every time there’s a sunny day, they create energy.”
As a member of a co-op between Seminole County and Winter Park, called Solar United Neighbors, Jewett got his panels at a discount.
“You get it at a really reasonable price, because you’re banding together with a lot of other folks, and a solar installer gives you a good deal,” Jewett said.
However, a House bill backed by Florida Power and Light lobbyists would cut the amount of money new solar customers can make selling their energy by more than half.
Supporters say typically wealthy solar customers are not paying as much to maintain the electrical grid, and are therefore costing working class households millions.
Experts in the solar industry say that’s not true. They point to studies that show the cost is negligible, and say the bill makes it close to impossible for lower-income households to afford solar panels.
They call the bill a job killer.
Jewett says every dollar a customer spends on solar panels is a dollar a power company doesn’t need to speed on power plants.
“Every single person that puts solar panels on their roof has less money going to FPL,” Jewett said. “So they’re going to fight that as best they can.”
Under the Solar United program, the average upfront cost for solar panels ranges from $6,000 to $19,000 in Florida.
Under the current conditions, they say homeowners can make up to a $40,0000 profit over the lifetime of the panels.
The bill is expected to easily pass the full House on Wednesday, when its fate will be sent to the Senate.
Jewett’s co-op is accepting new interested households through May, when it will begin negotiating with solar installers.
The hope will be to have panels switched on in time to be grandfathered into the existing system until everyone switches to the wholesale rate in 20 years.
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