Florida lawmakers are moving to undermine the policy that requires power companies to pay you a fair price for the excess energy your rooftop solar panels generate. Before taking another step, they would be wise to consider the damage this change would inflict upon houses of worship and the people they serve.
Much of the discussion in Tallahassee has centered on potential job losses in the solar industry, but the proposed legislation also poses a threat to those already invested in solar, including churches. Being able to sell your excess power back to the state’s electric grid at a fair price — a practice called net metering — helps churches and others pay off their investments in solar systems. Net metering is a win-win for consumers and the environment. But power companies want it to end.
Solar power and net metering also allow churches to save on operating expenses and offer more community services, like food drives and mental health outreach. So this bad legislation is of great concern to all.
In 2009, the First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee became one of Florida’s first houses of worship to embrace solar power. When the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples made the switch, they reduced their energy use by 65%. The Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg saved 15% on their bill when they turned on their solar. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice also has solar, as does St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church in Seminole and the United Church of Christ congregations in Punta Gorda and Port St. Lucie.
Sarasota’s Central Church of Christ uses the solar savings to help fund missions, such as Joshua Village for Orphans in Oyugis, Kenya. Minister Rod Myers says that if their power bill were three or four times higher, their work to help disadvantaged children will suffer.
It’s easy to see why the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes the changes. In a letter to the bill sponsors, they note that utilities already are permitted to charge fees to customers with solar and that the changes “disproportionately affect those who have less financial wherewithal.”
Solar power makes sense for churches. Large indoor spaces that accommodate big groups have big lighting and cooling requirements – especially with our brutally hot summers. Plus, many have large roofs and other surfaces perfectly suited for solar panels.
But state lawmakers are moving fast to eliminate a fair net-metering policy and along with it, every church’s ability to harness God’s gift of light. If these bills become law, many Florida churches that have yet to go solar will lose the opportunity to benefit from clean, affordable power. The churches that have already embraced solar will suffer, too, along with the communities they serve.
Churches will always be the places we turn to in times of need. In a state like ours where tropical storms and hurricanes are becoming more catastrophic, our churches need every penny they can get to provide emergency services. Especially now, with the cost of goods and services up 7.5% from just a year ago. According to the US Energy Information Agency, Floridians’ annual electricity expenditures are 40% more than the U.S. average. Why would state lawmakers add to our inflation woes by inflating energy bills?
We already know what happens to a state’s economy without net metering. When Nevada eliminated it in 2016, it wasn’t just homeowners who paid the price. It cost the state numerous high-paying jobs. The economic damage was so significant that the state reversed course a year later. Must we make the same mistake here?
In Florida, the rooftop solar industry has an $18 billion impact annually, according to a 2021 report. It boasts more than 40,000 high-skill, high-wage jobs and generates more than $3 billion in household income. As witnessed in Nevada, this growing industry would be decimated if the proposed changes become law.
State lawmakers should protect our God-given right to harness the power of the sun so that houses of worship can continue to provide essential services to our communities. We should all continue to get a fair price for the energy we produce.
Lewis Jennings, Environmental & Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP Florida State Conference, is working to get solar on his church, Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Walton Beach.