Separating PACE’s Fiction from the Facts on Solar Power

Guest Blog | April 16, 2015 | Energy Policy

The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) is the public face of a complex network of firms employed by fossil fuel and monopoly utility interests. The organization recently disseminated talking points on solar power to Florida legislators – in particular about the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot initiative that would allow more access to solar power for Florida’s families and businesses.

Its talking points were filled with inaccurate and misleading statements – and parroting talking points of the utility industry about solar impacts. PACE’s attack on solar power undermines efforts to hold an open and honest discussion on how clean renewable energy, like solar power, can benefit Florida’s consumers. So, let’s start by separating PACE’s fiction from the facts on solar power.

Fiction:  The solar ballot initiative would create an unlevel playing field for solar power.

Fact: Florida is only one of five states that expressly prohibit  the sale of power by any entity other than a power company. The ballot initiative, if passed, will expand solar choice by allowing all customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power and the choice of who provides it to them – by allowing third party power purchase agreements (PPA). This right is currently not allowed under Florida law; the petition simply removes the third party sales barrier and levels the playing field so that all customers can have access to power from the sun – regardless of whether they can afford the upfront cost, or own their home.

Florida is soon to be only one of four states expressly prohibiting solar choice. Last month the Georgia Legislature passed the Georgia Solar Power Free Market Financing Act  – by unanimous vote – that would remove a major solar roadblock for Georgia customers by allowing the same type of third-party financing contemplated by the Florida solar choice petition.

Bills to allow solar choice have been filed with the Florida Legislature each of the last 3 years. Yet due to the undue influence of monopoly power companies – which view distributed solar as a threat to shareholder value  – the bills never made it out of the legislative committees. The Florida Constitution expressly permits citizens to amend the Constitution (when lawmakers don’t do their job) through citizen initiative, such as the solar choice petition.

Fiction: Solar providers … would use the grid at their convenience without paying its full cost.

Fact: Opponents of distributed solar power are entitled to their own opinions, not their own facts. Rooftop solar saves the utility on expensive fuel costs and line losses experienced during periods where energy demand is highest. It can also save on investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure and on the cost of managing power delivery. Florida, which has some of the highest electricity consumption and costs of any state in the country, stands to benefit from these savings.

Numerous studies show that solar net metering customers not only cover their own grid costs, but also provide net benefits to the utility grid and other customers as well. It’s been well-documented; just see the Nevada study, the Arizona study, or the Maine study, to name a few. PACE’s reliance on one flawed study as a basis for its attack on distributed solar power is disingenuous.

Beyond the utility-wide system benefits of distributed solar power, there are clear economic benefits to customers that use customer-sited solar power. The fuel for solar power is free. This allows customers to lock-in long term savings through a PPA. While their power company rate increases, their solar rate can remain flat, therefore protecting customers against utility bill rate increases.

Fiction: There are no barriers to solar power today.

Fact:  The prohibition in Florida of solar PPAs is a roadblock to customer-sited solar power. Roof-top solar power development has gone gangbusters in states that allow these types of solar financing agreements, by opening up the market to people who may not have the resources to pay for their own systems, or may not want to maintain and operate them. New Jersey, for instance, has 5 times the number of rooftop solar systems of the Sunshine State with just half the population. And last year, 90 percent of those systems in New Jersey were installed using third party financing options, like a PPA. Third party financing accounted for than 70% of all US residential solar installations in 2014. Moreover, it has allowed greater access to solar power for younger, less affluent and under-served communities.

Additionally, PACE erroneously states that there are 60,000 distributed solar systems in Florida, but that number is off by a factor of 10 – there are only about 6,600 such systems in Florida – a state with about 9 million electricity customers. Solar customers represent just  0.07% of all Florida electric customers, and their solar systems account for 0.1% of Florida’s power capacity.  Certainly, you would never know that the Sunshine State is ranks 3rd in in the country for solar rooftop potential, given that it ranks 13th in installed solar PV.

We can do better in the Sunshine State. Now that we’ve separated the facts from the fiction on distributed solar power, let’s focus the conversation in Florida on how to realize meaningful solar development, including removing removing road blocks to Floridians that wish to power their homes and businesses with solar power.

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