By Heaven Campbell, Solar United Neighbors
With so much attention focused – as it should be – on Florida Power & Light’s drastic rate increases, an additional financial burden for consumers is flying largely under the radar: new monthly minimums.
Hundreds of thousands of the utility’s customers will soon pay the price of increased minimum costs on their electric bills, but solar homeowners will be among the hardest hit. They count on low electric bills to make up for the financial investments they made in their solar systems. Florida’s solar homeowners have earned their freedom from high electricity bills, but this proposal pulls them back into monthly costs they’ve rightfully escaped.
Floridians who don’t even use any electricity from the grid in a year would still pay FPL hundreds of dollars annually. These minimums will ultimately line investors’ pockets at the customer’s expense. FPL is proposing a $25-per-month minimum, which it estimates would add more than $30 million to the company’s bottom line.
At Solar United Neighbors, we’d put it another way: This would cost Floridians another $30 million every year. The minimum bill would apply to 360,000 residential customers, according to FPL’s estimates. Along with solar owners, seasonal residents and households with low energy usage would feel the heaviest burden.
When considering whether they can afford to install a solar system on their home, families factor in the cost savings the switch would produce on their monthly bills. The increase imposed by the monthly minimum charge will rack up over time and significantly lengthen how long it takes for solar owners to recover their upfront costs.
Floridians also factor in something called net metering when deciding whether to install solar. Net metering allows excess energy produced by a solar power system to be sent back to the grid so the utility company can sell it to other users.
In exchange for providing power, the solar homeowner receives a bill credit. These monthly minimums will counteract that credit, hurting more than half of the total net-metered homes and businesses in FPL’s territory – about 14,000 people.
FPL’s proposed minimum bill comes out of a settlement agreement the company reached on its rate increase earlier this year. The utility isn’t the only massive investor-owned monopoly sneakily pressing higher minimums on its customers. Duke Energy introduced new $30 per month minimums as part of its rate case settlement – buried on page 2,864.
State regulators approved Duke Energy’s proposal in May, and the new minimum bills will take effect in January. FPL also proposed its minimum increase to the Florida Public Service Commission, but regulators have not approved it yet.
Florida has the potential to lead the way in solar energy production, bringing far-reaching benefits to residents across the state. With increased solar energy comes boosted economic benefit, local job creation, and resilience in the face of natural disasters.
We should be encouraging the expansion of solar in Florida, not saddling solar homeowners with unfair cost hikes that benefit only monopoly utilities. For the sake of hundreds of thousands of Floridians with solar on their homes, I hope that’s prioritized when state regulators consider these kinds of proposals.
Heaven Campbell is the Florida Program Director for Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit organization representing solar homeowners and those who would like to benefit from solar energy.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.