By George Riley
Energy independence creates economic strength.
Russia’s atrocious actions in Ukraine are possible, in large part, because of the substantial natural gas resources the massive country has and the enormous amount of revenue those exports generate.
From an energy security perspective, Florida’s electric utilities are dangerously under-diversified compared to neighboring states. Right now, about three-fourths of the electricity Florida generates comes from natural gas. That makes families and businesses particularly susceptible to volatile utility bills.
In the face of that reality, it’s difficult to imagine a policy that would represent a larger leap backwards than the recently passed anti-solar bill (HB 741). This legislation would further increase Florida’s dependence on gas imports and make it harder for families to use rooftop solar to take control of their electric bills.
While most of Florida’s gas is imported from domestic sources, we still feel the ripple effect of prices on the global economy. Beginning in January, the state’s largest utility raised customer rates by $809 million due to increased fuel costs — and those costs continue to go up.
When utility companies invest in solar, they require customers to pay for it. That’s appropriate.
But when a homeowner or small business uses their own money to install rooftop solar panels, why should they be punished with new fees and charges? Those who invest in rooftop solar should reap the full benefits of an infinite and free energy source — including having the ability to offset their electricity usage through net metering.
Some argue this legislation will reduce costs for non-solar customers, but that simply doesn’t hold up.
Make no mistake: Not a single Florida family’s utility bill will go down as a result of this legislation. But tens of thousands of households will ultimately see their bills increase.
While proponents claim this legislation is about getting rid of subsidies, it actually has a provision slipped in at the end that creates a brand-new subsidy that could raise bills instead of lower them. With this provision, utilities will be able to propose uncapped increases to customer bills to make up for revenue they are missing out on because a family gets its energy from the sun.
If I start making coffee at home rather than going out, should my local coffee shop be able to bill me for the “lost revenue” they are missing out on? Most of us would scoff at such an outrageous scenario, but that’s exactly what investor-owned utilities get from this legislation.
The bottom line is that Florida needs to move away from an overreliance on any single source of energy and move toward a position where we generate more and more electricity within our state. It’s certainly within reach.
Leaning into his conservative values, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been an unwavering voice for freedom and free market principles. He routinely rejects the status quo, brushing aside the desires of talking media heads and corporate wish lists. That freedom is one of the reasons hundreds of families continue to move here every day.
But it becomes harder and harder for hardworking families to afford to keep the lights on when those costs are tied to geopolitical affairs that we can’t predict or control. Just look at the Florida Panhandle, where countless families are being crushed by skyrocketing utility bills.
Conservatives should be the loudest champions for energy independence and empowering families to take their utility bills into their own hands. I urge Gov. DeSantis to recognize the importance of homegrown rooftop solar and veto HB 741.
George Riley is the Florida Director of Conservatives for Clean Energy. He previously served as executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. This piece first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.