By Lewis Jennings, NAACP Florida State Conference
High energy bills are a persistent monthly burden for everyone, but it weighs especially heavy on disadvantaged communities. Between recent utility rate increases and volatile natural gas prices, the financial drain on already challenged household budgets shows no sign of easing.
To lower costs and take control of their own energy consumption, some members of minority and low- to moderate-income communities have turned to solar power. However, the state’s monopoly utilities are leading an attack on this cost-saving energy option by pushing for unfair changes to the state’s solar net metering policies.
Net metering is a billing system that allows homeowners who have installed solar to send any extra power their panels produce back to the energy grid, in exchange for credits that lower their bills. This fair system benefits both homeowners and utilities by letting homeowners cut down on energy costs and utilities resell the excess power for a profit.
Unfortunately, big utilities are bent on furthering their monopolies and expanding their record-breaking profits even more – all at the expense of consumers. They are pushing the Florida Legislature to essentially do away with net metering and the benefits it brings to homeowners.
They also have a history of using front-line communities and people of color to shield their greedy intentions, going so far as claiming that net metering actually increases these groups’ utility rates.
This simply isn’t the case. Solar homeowners make investments in solar themselves and provide power that adds a net benefit to the energy grid. This reduces costs for everyone, and that’s especially important for disadvantaged customers suffering under skyrocketing energy costs.
Power companies have a history of profiting off low-income and minority communities. They recently pushed for rate increases that will add up to billions of dollars over the next few years, and customers will be socked with the bill. The worst effects will be felt by poor communities, where too many residents already live without consistent access to electricity.
Utilities already left these vulnerable groups in the dark during the COVID-19 pandemic. They shut the lights and air conditioning off on over 500,000 Floridians at the height of the public health and economic crisis. While too many of our neighbors struggled to pay their utility bills, they brought in record earnings in 2020.
Power companies’ attack on home-based solar energy demonstrates their continued insistence that their customers rely on outdated, dangerous sources of energy that put Florida closer to the devastating consequences of climate change. That poses an even greater threat to minorities and disadvantaged communities, as they will experience the first and worst damage from the warming climate.
For the sake of these vulnerable communities, Florida must ensure that important clean energy policies are preserved and advanced. The Legislature should stop this unfair, unwanted attack on net metering and the Florida communities who benefit from it.
Lewis Jennings serves as the Environmental & Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP Florida State Conference.
“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.