Florida Utilities Lobbied To Make It Illegal For Solar Users To Use Panels In Wake Of Hurricanes, Outages

from the sorry,-progress-is-illegal dept

You may have noticed that the shift to solar is happening whether traditional utilities like it or not, and attempting to stop solar’s forward momentum is akin to believing you can thwart the Mississippi with a fork and a few copies of Mad Magazine. Said futility clearly hasn’t discouraged Florida utilities, who have gone to numerous, highly-creative lengths to try and hinder or curtail solar use. When last we checked in with legacy Florida utilities, they were busy using entirely fake consumer groups to push a law that professed to help the solar industry while actually undermining it.

Fortunately Florida consumers ultimately saw through this effort, though this was just one of a steady stream of similar bills aimed at stalling progress. Many Florida Power and Light customers obviously lost power in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, despite promises by the company that endless rate hikes would help harden the utilities’ lines. But customers thinking they could use the solar panels on their roofs to help keep themselves afloat until traditional power was restored were in for a rude awakening.

Thanks to the fact that Florida utility lobbyists are being allowed to quite literally write the state’s energy laws, many locals discovered they weren’t able to use their solar panels in the wake of the storm lest they violate state law:

“FPL’s lobbying wing has fought hard against letting Floridians power their own homes with solar panels. Thanks to power-company rules, it’s impossible across Florida to simply buy a solar panel and power your individual home with it. You are instead legally mandated to connect your panels to your local electric grid. More egregious, FPL mandates that if the power goes out, your solar-power system must power down along with the rest of the grid, robbing potentially needy people of power during major outages.

In the broadband industry, we consistently let giant incumbents like Comcast and AT&T write shitty protectionist state laws — then stand around with a dumb look on our collective faces wondering why U.S. broadband is shitty and expensive. The same problem plagues the utility sector across countless states. In Florida, the average household spends $1,900 a year on power, 40% higher than the national average. Yet incentives or other measures designed to spur solar power adoption are either absent or illegal, in large part thanks to utility lobbying.

Needless to say, Irma appears to be acting as a wake up call to Florida utility customers unfamiliar with how the American lobbying and political system actually works:

The problem, again, is that legacy companies across numerous sectors are very effective at using partisan patty cake to convince consumers to root against their own best self interests. That’s why Florida, a state perfectly suited to take advantage of solar power, remains well behind the curve when it comes to solar adoption. And again, that’s courtesy of folks like State Representative Ray Rodrigues, who takes notable campaign contributions from utilities like FPL, then consistently fields bills that profess to aid the solar revolution while covertly sabotaging what should be the obvious path forward.

Filed Under: , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Florida Utilities Lobbied To Make It Illegal For Solar Users To Use Panels In Wake Of Hurricanes, Outages”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
76 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Not to worry

Aren’t you presuming that State Representative Ray Rodrigues has power? Or, perhaps, he has solar power and is taking advantage of some exception for legislators that the law provides for in some small print?

Regardless, the fact that horse and buggy industries are allowed to prevent automobile type progression is a an abomination. Take the money out of politics and prevent lobbyists from writing laws, Constitutionally.

As it stands, the current rules about money in politics is simply a rule made by The Federal Elections Committee, and is easily reversed, if there was sufficient political will, which it appears there isn’t, sadly.

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not to worry

I know this is a dated, and therefore somewhat quixotic response, but how can you fail to have noticed that all previous efforts to “get money out of politics” have resulted in what can only be called an “Incumbent Protection Act”.

Until science can devise a “pie-in-the-sky to electricity conversion device”, “money out of politics” is not a solution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Installing such a module should be a mandatory part of any solar installation that feeds back into the grid.

Florida has a weird catch, as the linked article notes: "FPL customers aren’t allowed to simply flip that switch and keep their panels going."

But otherwise it’s a pretty standard requirement, and automatic transfer switches are common equipment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

automatic transfer switches are common equipment.

That particular automatic transfer switch is not designed for use with a grid interconnection system.

From the product description:

… When utility power is interrupted, the transfer switch automatically transfers power from the utility to the generator. When utility power returns, the transfer switch will return the electrical load from the generator back to utility….

Iow, that transfer switch exclusively selects between primary and standby power sources. What it does not do, is to allow the renewable energy source to provide power to the grid in non-standby operation. But that’s what you want for grid-interconnected solar—during a normal day, with the grid up, the solar powers the grid, and the meter runs ‘backwards’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I believe they also utilize protective gear .. gear that will insulate against electrical current. More potential, more gear. You act like these guys are ignorant or something, I would imagine they receive extensive training and periodic re-certifications.

The real reason for said law, is because the crusty old barons do not like new fangled energy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hybrid solar systems (capable of switching between grid-tie and standalone operation automatically based on whether a grid source is present or not) are a well-known thing in the art — inverters like the Pika Energy Island and OutBack Radian series have had this feature for some time now, providing the transfer facility through a contactor internal to the inverter that isolates the “upstream” grid-tie bus from the inverter and “downstream” critical loads bus during a power outage. (See the diagrams heading up Art. 690 in the 2017 NEC if you’re still confused.)

DavidMxx (profile) says:

Of course, it depends on how the law is written, but I can think of a loophole that might be available…

First, if the law says that the solar panels must be tied to the grid without saying that they must be tied to the grid ONLY, one could do both, i.e. tie the panels to the grid AND directly to the house, through the appropriate controls of course. Then one could use power supplied by the panels directly at the flip of a switch, and still comply with the “must be connected to the grid” requirement.

Second, a switch that automatically disconnects the panels from the grid at the instant that the grid goes down complies with the “your solar-power system must power down along with the rest of the grid” from the grid’s point of view. That is, from the grid’s point of view, the panels WOULD be powered down, since they would be disconnected. Which in truth is the ONLY way to power down solar panels (unless one manually disassembles them). So the disconnect switch setup would in fact be the same method used to power down panels regardless of any direct connection to the house. Making the reconnect action back to the grid a manual task would satisfy any safety concern as well.

All in all, engineering two connections instead of one is the way to go.

In the meantime, I would start a grass roots movement to rewrite the law AND to push to elect a new representative.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Had you read the link: "Astoundingly, state rules also mandate that solar customers include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL’s system while keeping the rest of a home’s power lines connected [to the standby generator]."


Third one! DO ANY OF YOU EVER READ OR UNDERSTAND BEFORE COMMENTING?

You should truly not be allowed to have electricity. Little more than savages who know what buttons to push.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He’s referring to the fact that they have a switch that allows a SEPARATE STANDBY GENERATOR to take over in case the lines go down, but DOESN’T allow the solar panels themselves to take over. The fact that he doesn’t understand the difference shows he really doesn’t understand the issue at all. He just keeps repeating this bit he clipped from the article and assumes that make him look smarter.

ThatDevilTech (profile) says:

Story I saw...

The story I saw initially, I believe on Ars, stated that there were disconnects that allowed the customer’s home to be disconnected from the main lines to allow the solar panels to operate without issue to the linesmen working to repair the downed lines. The disconnects were locked out BY the utility to NOT allow the customer to use what is attached to their own homes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

“Renewable generator systems **connected to the grid** without batteries are not a standby power source during an FPL outage,” the company’s solar-connection rules state. “The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”

Utterly reasonable and necessary. If think not, you simply don’t understand electricicles. You should not be messing with it, or even writing about it. This is flap-doodle fanned to flames by click-bait sites. — You’re even as usual several days LATE to it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

“Astoundingly, state rules also mandate that solar customers include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL’s system while keeping the rest of a home’s power lines connected [to the standby generator].” — Actually, it’s physics “mandates” that. EVERY installation in Germany and the UK, who support solar with major subsidies, has the same or even more stringent rules. ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

“But during a disaster like the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, FPL customers aren’t allowed to simply flip that switch and keep their panels going.” — That’s the crux of the ignorance. I don’t believe that’s true.

“(But FPL is, however, allowed to disconnect your panels from the grid without warning you. The company can even put a padlock on it.)” — But almost certainly WON’T unless thought to be a hazard. You think electricians have time to run around pad-locking all these things during an emergency? NO, that’s why the automatic cut-offs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

I don’t see — so you’ll have to show — where it’s "illegal" to use your solar-generator when it’s NOT connected to the grid. Period.

(Link goes on reasonable for a bit, then turns nutty and impractical again blaming FPL for opposing burying 88 miles of high-voltage lines at no doubt staggering cost! Sheesh. This is one time I’ll say FPL should do a John Galt, just QUIT, let ’em protest in the heat and dark.)


BTW: again, split up into three because Techdirt seems now to prevent long posts at least from TOR.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

I don’t see — so you’ll have to show — where it’s "illegal" to use your solar-generator when it’s NOT connected to the grid

Here’s a novel idea: Try reading the story. It quotes the source material….

Thanks to power-company rules, it’s impossible across Florida to simply buy a solar panel and power your individual home with it. You are instead legally mandated to connect your panels to your local electric grid. More egregious, FPL mandates that if the power goes out, your solar-power system must power down along with the rest of the grid, robbing potentially needy people of power during major outages.

You’re REQUIRED to connect your panels to the grid. Once a hurricane knocks out the power, you have to make an appointment for the power company to come out and disconnect your house from the (dead) grid. They’ll be a bit busy at that point, so you’ll probably have to wait until power is restored to generate your own.

BTW: again, split up into three because Techdirt seems now to prevent long posts at least from TOR.

So you make a fool of yourself across multiple posts. The net effect is the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

… you have to make an appointment for the power company to come out and disconnect your house from the (dead) grid.

Don’t know what kind of weird rules you have in Canada, but down here in the states, the main disconnect is almost always accessible not only to home owner—but also to the fire department.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

From the source story:

Astoundingly, state rules also mandate that solar customers include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL’s system while keeping the rest of a home’s power lines connected. But during a disaster like the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, FPL customers aren’t allowed to simply flip that switch and keep their panels going.

When the hurricane hits and the power goes out, you’ll have to phone and make an appointment to be disconnected to start generating your own power. That’s "down there in the states", not Canada.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

FPL customers aren’t allowed to simply flip that switch and keep their panels going.

Re-read the whole sentence you bolded. Do you see the “and”? That’s a conjunction.

It doesn’t mean that a building owner —or a fireman, paramedic, EMT— isn’t allowed to disconnect the building. Period.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

Re-read the ENTIRE sentence. Heck, you even quoted it.

The customer – the home owner – is not allowed to disconnect the building. And at that point, your house being powerless, there’s no need for your hypothetical fireman or EMT to come along and connect it.

All you can do is phone and make an appointment to be disconnected so you start generating your own power. Which in a hurricane will almost certainly be days later after the power is restored.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

The customer – the home owner – is not allowed to disconnect the building.

That’s not what the sentence says.

Even if the sentence did say that, it wouldn’t be correct. But this sentence, in context, refers to the disconnect for the solar panels.

All you can do is phone and make an appointment to be disconnected…

That’s just wrong. It is not what the article says. Even if the article said that, it’d still be wrong. But the article doesn’t say that.

For god-damn good reasons, you don’t need an appointment with the power company to cutoff power at the building main disconnect—not any more than you need an appointment for a heart attack, or a fire.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

That’s not what the sentence says.

That’s exactly what the sentence says.

Even if the sentence did say that, it wouldn’t be correct.

The source news story – along with quotes from customers in exactly that situation and quotes from industry insiders – shows that it is indeed correct.

That’s just wrong.

It’s right. Read the story. Read the citations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

I like how out_of_the_blue rants about how Techdirt supports corporations, yet when families want to use their own solar panels when the corporation can’t provide electricity because a fucking hurricane just tore through their neighborhood, he defends the corporation that bans them from access to power like a wife for an abusive husband.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Techdirt re-writer ignorant of bus-transfer switches.

"The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid."

That is an excuse, as safe working practices treat all lines as potential carries of volts unless earthed. Static is a big potential problem on grids.

Also note, most of the time a solar system will shutdown due to overload if it stays connected to an un-powered section of the grid, as it tries to power all the other loads that are still connected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Meanwhile, in Japan...

“The city of 40,000 chose to construct micro-grids and de-centralized renewable power generation to create a self-sustaining system capable of producing an average of 25 percent of its electricity without the need of the region’s local power utility. “

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-energy-revolution/quiet-energy-revolution-underway-in-japan-as-dozens-of-towns-go-off-the-grid-idUSKCN1BU0UT

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Meanwhile, in Japan...

Neat article. Thanks for linking it.

These micro grids are explicitly designed to deal with situations where the main grid is down. Situations exactly like those caused by Hurricanes.

Of course, if you’re a power company, the idea of losing 25% of revenue because of local production is terrifying. Which is why Florida Light and Power would never let that happen.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

More to the point, what kind of special idiot would NOT flip the main breaker in this sort of situation and use his alternate power source *anyway*.

Ever fire up a generator during a blackout and NOT pop the main? The grid draws it down so fast and hard you probably won’t have time to disconnect before it stalls out.

From my reading of the snippets in the article, FL requires privately-owned panels to be connected to the grid at all times – the owner can’t disconnect from the grid. In the case of grid power loss, all those panels would be trying to power the entire grid in that situation – every home with a light switch still on or a refrigerator kicking on.

This article jumped the gun – the REAL story would be if Florida actually arrests or civilly charges anyone for using their panels *dis*connected from the grid in spite of this law.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

There are some people who refused to be identified for a Gizmodo story on this topic because they were worried that their setups would get them condemned. If you run your home without connecting to the power grid, your local municipality can declare your home "unfit for habitation" and condemn it until you connect to the grid, even if you generate (and store, in batteries for cloudy days) enough power to fully run your home.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Homes must be wired to NEC and State/Local standards before a Certificate of Occupancy is issued.

They need a potable water supply, septic system, doors, windows, etc as well before a CofO can be issued.

It’s to prevent slumlords from renting old sheds as livable homes.

You may be required to be “on the grid”, but only in the sense that you need a Service to the house and a meter from the local power company. If you never flip the main breaker to use that power, you just pay the $20/month or so that electric companies charge for the privilege of using their meter.

Whatever laws Florida has passed to keep people from self-powering, the backlash against the utility company and the politicians who allowed the law to pass IF they ever prosecuted someone under it would make a hurricane look like a sun shower.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

First — the NEC only applies if an electrical system is present in the house. However, it is within the rights of the building code to require that electricity be available, so we’ll assume for argument’s sake that there is such a requirement.

Second — the NEC EXPLICITLY ALLOWS FOR electrical systems that are isolated from the utility grid, whether they run off an engine-driven generator, solar panels and batteries, or even a RTG. In fact, the 2017 NEC added Article 710 to condense and clarify the requirements for these systems. (And yes, there’s nothing in the NEC that says you couldn’t have a house that runs on a suitably sized RTG provided everything’s up to snuff wiring-wise.)

Third — potable water can come from a private well. Sewage disposal can be provided by a private septic system. You can have a propane or oil tank (or no fuel gas supply at all). No law mandates that all houses have a POTS connection. Why in the world should electricity be any different?

Last but not least, what you discuss is entirely local — the 2015 IRC does not say that a house must have an electrical system. (It does say that it must have a kitchen with a sink, a functioning restroom, sufficient ventilation (either natural or mechanical), and a few other things, but not an electrical system of any sort (you could have all heat, light, and cooking provided for using fuel gas, for instance).

In short: I’m fine with the CoO requiring a reliable supply of electricity, just like it requires a source of potable water and a means of sewage disposal. But having a CoO require utility electrical service clashes with the intent of several articles and sections in the NEC itself.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

The State Sunlight Concession

It’s quite simple, really: the state has sold all sunlight power-generation rights to a private company. You’re allowed some personal use of the sun for warming yourself, tanning etc, but any use of it for generating electricity has to be authorized by the power company, otherwise you’re infringing their property rights.

Photosynthesis seems to be a grey area: since the Calvin cycle involves electron transfer, that technically counts as electricity. Plants in reserves and public areas may get a special exemption, but consumption of sunlight by private gardens could be breaking the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

In NJ, it is illegal to plug a generator into a wall outlet. That is because you backfeed power into wires. If someone forgets to throw the main breaker to isolate the house from the grid, someone can die. Not just power workers, I remember after Sandy people were very careless around downed wires because they knew the power was off.

Another fun fact is if your generator is connected to the house and is backfeeding power into the grid, if it is still connected when power comes back on, your generator will probably become a rocket.

Building in a transfer switch and subpanel isn’t all that hard to do, but it takes an electrician and it costs about $5K.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem with the Florida law is that it appears to ban setups, termed “hybrid” setups, that legitimately have the capability to provide emergency power without backfeeding the grid using an inverter with integral transfer/critical-load capability such as the OutBack Radian series and Pika Energy Island.

In addition, the Florida laws appear to ban totally stand-alone power configurations for a dwelling unit (whether they be solar or otherwise). This is quite ridiculous (especially at a statewide level), considering that the NEC goes out of its way to allow stand-alone power systems (see Article 710 of the 2017 NEC).

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

so much bad information from people who based on what they’re posting really should know better.

almost all of this is money but not in the areas you think

any system that allows interconnects are going to have a shutdown to block backfeed when the grid is down. period. its a safety concern.

any hybrid system that has a battery backup, has the proper shutoffs to handle this exact issue- a point that (while i may have missed it) has not been pointed out. the reason i dont have a battery backup on my existing solar system which by the way functions exactly like this- is because just that one single function of a battery backup for a hybrid would have cost me an additional 10-15 grand. the real reason people cannot use their solar right now in those affected areas is because they opted to not spend the money that would have allowed them to do so. Period.

yes, the technology exists. Yes there are laws that are there for safety purposes but no, the laws do not stop anyone from putting the proper system in place for them to avoid this situation as long as they pay for it.

I did not, so when the power grid goes down, even in the day time….. im out of juice just like everyone else in my area. if i want out of that, its up to me to spend the money to put the proper system in.

none of this takes a place being completely off grid into consideration and that is the only ridiculous part of this- there should be no reason for that

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...