By Richard W. Emory Jr., author and former EPA attorney
After Florida Power & Light persuaded the Florida Legislature to kill residential rooftop power, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the bill on April 27. He said he wanted to help Floridians struggling with inflation.
Of course, FPL is relentless, and like The Terminator, the company is thinking “I’ll be back!”
Dear Reader, perhaps you wonder why this issue consumes me. I worked briefly for the Public Service Commission of Maryland before I served in that state’s legislature. Of course, in the 1970s we did not have rooftop solar, but in Annapolis there were many other issues where the special interests and citizens regularly dueled.
Since 1978, after working at the state, national and international levels in environmental protection, I thought I had seen almost everything. But I retired to Florida and I have come upon the machinations of FPL, and it is all so familiar.
FPL routinely wastes ratepayers’ money on aggressive lobbying and self-promoting TV ads. But that spending is minimal compared to the money the company spends to import natural gas that frightfully accelerates the warming of the climate and the speed of sea-level rise.
FPL’s other big threat to Florida is its nuclear plants, which are built near the sea. Storms and the rising sea make them increasingly dangerous. FPL was recently given permission to double the size of its water-polluting nuclear plant built 50 years ago on the shore of Biscayne Bay.
What FPL should be doing is building advanced-design nuclear plants on higher ground away from the coasts. Such plants are safe, clean, and essential when the sun does not shine. New and modern nuclear plants will even consume the radioactive waste stored in pools around the existing primitive plants built decades ago.
To be fair, FPL has done some very good things. It has built its own large solar arrays, and it has hardened the power grid by installing concrete and steel poles to carry its wires.
But FPL’s prime goal is to maximize money paid to its owners and top managers, and we are all captives with no free-market choice — except to “go solar.”
FPL has every right to recover the cost of capital to build power plants that actually are necessary, and to make a reasonable profit too. But what FPL wants is excess profit from mandatory rate increases.
It wants to build more unneeded peak-load generators making the same hot-and-sunny-day power that private solar owners do. This is the waste that FPL wants to cause and make customers pay for.
FPL will be back to try again in Tallahassee, and between legislative sessions it will be importuning the captive Florida Public Service Commission.
But it is the homeowners and the environment that need state protection. Florida legislators and regulators should realize that net metering allows rooftop solar owners to very slowly recover the cost of their solar installations. And these rooftop installations reduce the bills that FPL sends to everyone.
Furthermore, Florida should expand rooftop solar to large commercial buildings. At the moment, it’s illegal for building owners to sell or share their excess power with neighbors. Many other states permit businesses to use their rooftops and to join homeowners by spending their own capital to help utilities by reducing sunny-day, peak-load demand on the public grid.
Even in Tallahassee, probably most would agree with the first part of the saying. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” But sadly, in too many capitols of our imperfect democracy, the second part of the saying is true too.
Richard W. Emory, Jr. is the author of “Fighting Pollution and Climate Change: An EPA Veterans’ Guide How to Join in Saving our Life on Planet Earth,” available at www.fightingpollutionbook.com. He is the former top lawyer for all EPA investigations of pollution crime.
“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.