Politics

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
florida, solar power, utilities



Utilities Are Playing Dirty In Florida To Kill Solar Energy Disruption In The Cradle

from the artificial-consumers-for-stagnation dept

Facing a future where competition is rampant, customers pay less money, and solar users actually get paid for driving power back to the grid gives any entrenched utility executive heartburn. Fortunately for them, we live in an era where buying state law and tricking consumers into rooting against their own best self interests is easier than ever before. Florida (where air conditioning drives the second highest energy consumption nationally) is quickly becoming the poster child for how utilities are using ethically incontinent lawmakers and a gullible populace to prevent solar power technology from reaching critical mass.

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. Last year, a coalition of solar energy advocates called the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) tried to push an amendment that would have opened up the Florida energy market to solar competition. The group helped create a coalition of some strange bedfellows dubbed "Floridians for Solar Choice" with an eye on a November 2016 ballot initiative:
Seeking to crack open Florida's energy market at the ballot box, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) mounted a $2 million campaign to qualify a "Solar Choice" amendment for the 2016 election. The constitutional amendment would have ended Florida's rare lock on electricity sales; only Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina have similar prohibitions. It would have freed consumers to install leased solar panels on their rooftops at no upfront expense. Retailers could have installed solar arrays and sold power to tenants in the same shopping complex.
Instead of just the boring traditional approach of attacking the initiative (which was polling at 70% public support), Florida utilities got creative. They created an operation calling itself Consumers For Smart Solar -- a group pretending to support solar technology, yet whose sole purpose is to push a competing proposal that hard bakes the existing, utility-friendly regulations into the Florida state constitution. The sales pitch at the group's website works hard to craft the illusion that the proposal is a huge boon to consumers and solar:
Amendment 1 helps those who choose solar by allowing state and local governments to pass commonsense consumer protection regulations, designed to prevent fraud, abuse and overcharging. Non-solar customers who use traditional energy are protected by these regulations and we think solar customers should be protected, too. Even if you don’t choose solar, Amendment 1 works for you by ensuring that everyone who uses the electric grid helps pay to maintain it—including big, out-of-state companies.
The "about us" section of the group's website fails to mention its ties to the utility sector whatsoever. Instead, as we've also seen in telecom, the group crows that it has the support of a variety of third-party associations and minority groups, apparently willing to sell their constituents' best interests down river for industry financing. It also has the support of a myriad of groups just like itself, professing to be "coalitions of working people, business owners, environmentalists," yet oddly enough supporting proposals that work in stark opposition to the interests of pretty much everybody -- except utilities.

In other words, an ouroboros of carefully-constructed bullshit built specifically to protect the status quo.

Unsurprisingly, the initiative backed by companies and individuals actually supporting solar power has raised $1.52 million as of January 1, while the initiative backed by regional utilities like Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power has raised nearly 7 million. Outspent and outgunned, Floridians for Solar Choice (the group actually for energy market disruption and evolution) was forced to retreat and refocus on the 2018 ballot initiative, while the utility-backed proposal remains on track for a potential November approval, with few seemingly bothered that the masquerade has been so successful.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 6:45am

    Sponsor Patches

    Just like race cars, bills should be required to spell out exactly who the people backing it are and who contributed to the writing initially. If we saw the logos for the utilities, we would know if it was pro consumer or not right from the start.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 6:50am

      Re: Sponsor Patches

      Shell companies should also be required to publicly display who they're getting their money from.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PRMan (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:13am

      Re: Sponsor Patches

      This happens in California. It doesn't help. Whoever bought the best TV commercials always wins, even if it's Monsanto.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        LAquaker, 24 Mar 2016 @ 11:14pm

        Re: Re: Sponsor Patches

        Not quite always.

        The old-guard 'Utilitys' had blocked new 'co-generators' for ten years before 'deregulation'; small feed-in solar, geothermal, industrial CHP, excepting just one of their own; 'Mission Electric', a small steam plant burning off wasted methane from an oilfield near Porter Ranch. Then they tried to exclude P.V.solar into the 1996 BlueBook de-regulation. Didn't happen.
        Then, Los Angeles DWP tried to own all rooftop solar within the city with 'Proposition B'; the Corporation Of Los Angeles owns all of their physical plant, we are just the vermin that use THEIR houses. Didn't happen.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          LAquaker, 24 Mar 2016 @ 11:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: Sponsor Patches

          In 1999 LA County tried to block homeowner wind-cogeneration in the desert on aesthetic (read 'property values') grounds, the State Of California stepped in and squelched that. And, the state legislators pass a law in 2005 making grey-water use legal.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 6:58am

    Because of course money has more value than environment and citizenry welfare. Up to when the environment starts costing, no?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 7:35am

    Utilities Are Playing Dirty

    This is like saying that air contains oxygen.

    Utilities are ALWAYS playing dirty. A business has no fiduciary reason to ever play fair and in some cases even follow the law because it is actually cheaper to break it and pay fines instead of conforming to it.

    The legal landscape of the US encourages businesses to lie, cheat, and steal their way to success. There is not a single regulatory agency actually doing its job even close to 50% correctly or effectively.

    Of course they are going to play on a foul... its just good business and we endorse this shit every damn day!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Corey, 23 Mar 2016 @ 9:08am

      Re:

      Geeez --- the root problem is that the government heavily controls/regulates the retail electric industry across the nation. Therefore, dirty politics rules all key policy decisions. Get the government out of the electricity business and let normal competition & consumer demand guide things. The government ALWAYS plays dirty.

      Major electric utilities are quasi-government agencies and predictably act as such. Solar and renewable-energy interests are also heavily into lobbying politicians for special favors, with great success. Everybody in the electric industry plays politics BigTime ... because politicians call all the important shots.

      Geeez, how can people here be so naive?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:36am

        Re: Re:

        Geeez, how can people here be so naive?

        Because they are ignorant. They foolishly believe that somehow, Government Regulation is less evil than an unregulated Business Entity.


        Here is a perfect quote in the argument against regulation.

        I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.

        ~Thomas Jefferson

        It is such a shame that so many intellectually corrupt Americans are not able to understand this concept.

        The only regulation the Government should be in the business of internally, is Anti-Monopoly regulation and only the most clear cut Environmental Safety issues like toxic & chemical dumping.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Whoever, 23 Mar 2016 @ 12:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Geeez, how can people here be so naive?


        Yes, you are very naive, aren't you.

        In this case, the problem is that the electrical infrastructure is a natural monopoly. Allowing the company that owns the infrastructure to also own power generation is the basic problem. It allows that one company to leverage its monopoly to distort the market. It might be instructive to look at the UK where there is a competitive market for power generation. In the UK, power companies bid to provide power into the grid for short intervals. There have been times when the bids have been negative (it can be cheaper to keep the generator on line than shut it down and re-start it).

        Neither "The free market" nor reduced regulation will eliminate the natural monopoly on delivery of electrical power and any company that holds that monopoly can be expected to wield it in anti-competitive and anti-consumer fashion. That's why regulation is needed.

        In the case of solar power, it is important to note that end-user solar power reduces the need for capacity in the grid in most locations (those where A/C usage dominates). If I provide the power that my neighbor uses to run his A/C, then less electricity needs to flow from the remote power generator to my neighborhood. Thus solar power actually reduces the cost for all. If it doesn't reduce the price, that is because your utility is leveraging its monopoly power for the benefit of its shareholders.

        Let me suggest that if you don't want government regulation, you go live in Somalia. I hear that government regulation is minimal there.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Someone with a science degree, 23 Mar 2016 @ 7:40am

    Propaganda, not fact.

    From the article, "When homeowners install their own solar panels, it means the utilities build fewer power plants, and investors miss out on a chance to profit."

    WTF? Solar power is not 24x7 and people still need electricity at night and when the weather's bad. Which means utilities have to build THE SAME NUMBER of power plants to cope with these periods of near-zero solar.

    And "The rise of cheap, distributed solar power poses a disruptive – and perhaps existential – threat to the traditional electric utility business".

    This is insane. Solar could only drive traditional power companies out of existence if people are willing to limit power to the daylight hours, which isn't gonna happen.

    Sheer nonsense from start to finish.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JBDragon, 23 Mar 2016 @ 7:54am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      The Same number of power plant thing has been used a number of times and is a lie. The most power needed is during the day during Business hours! In fact you can get lower power rates to charge your Electric car during 2AM to 5AM or whatever it is.

      Hot days when you really need more power for everyone's AC's that's optimal time for Solar panels to do their job creating power when it's needed most. Which in the end saves building more power plants because of higher (PEEK) demands at times.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:08am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      Hi. The rest of have these things called batteries, you should look into them. Yeah for solar to work it needs big batteries but those exist as well.

      However, I agree that we are not going to see the end of the utilities... they just no longer have a guaranteed profit off of everyone, well, other than the transmission line charges.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:16am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      I mostly agree with what you said and I have been saying it as well. Maybe they won't need quite as many, but who can say that. The variability in demand due to weather, storms, cloud cover, etc. make it very hard on a power company to plan production. To think we are anywhere close to solar putting a dent into other power production is ludicrous.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Fred, 24 Mar 2016 @ 8:03pm

        Re: Re: Propaganda, not fact.

        The generation from PV, averaged over a year is very predictable and from month to month as well is predictable and can be accounted in power generation plans. Florida is the exception in PV because of the number of old people that vote and which the utilities keep ignorant with their falsehoods and self-interest. There are plenty of other people that feel comfortable believing anything a big corporation tells them, specially when the majority of folk spend a lot more on other things than electricity. Nevertheless, PV is a world-wide industry and is growing so fast that by 2030 it will generate as much energy as is used today from the burning of barrels of oil.

        In addition, PV with batteries is cheaper than FP&L utility rates today and by 2020 it will make inroads in Florida, regardless of FP&L and NextEra.

        The sad part is that ignorance over the generation of CO2 will cause most of Florida to be submerged under 100 feet of water, before the end of this century and perhaps totally by then middle of the next century. What a legacy we leave our children!!!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:20am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      "Solar power is not 24x7 and people still need electricity at night and when the weather's bad. Which means utilities have to build THE SAME NUMBER of power plants to cope with these periods of near-zero solar."

      Not necessarily. I personally know of three households that are entirely off the grid, and they all use batteries that are charged during the day and used to carry them through the night. Admittedly, two of these households use propane generators to supplement the system should the batteries not last, but none of them are wired to the grid at all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        jeff, 23 Apr 2016 @ 9:42am

        Re: Re: Propaganda, not fact.

        Batteries are no solution. Lithium prices are already skyrocketing and that's just due to regular consumer products not storage for the entire utility grid in a nation or world. Just not realistic.

        And there's a reason almost nobody has battery storage with their homsolar panels. Cost. Solar is less than half of one percent of our energy usage is the US and theres not even affordable storage for that tiny amount.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 1:12pm

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      Solar power is not limited to daylight hours as you suggest. You install enough solar panels so that there is more energy generated than needed for day time use and store the additional energy in batteries for use during the night.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Whoever, 23 Mar 2016 @ 6:08pm

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      Yes, let's have some facts.

      Like the fact that peak electricity demand occurs in most states at the time of day when the the solar panels will be producing the most electricity. Yes, that's right: A/C units, believe it or not, use more electricity during the hottest part of the day. Just at the same time that those solar panels will be putting the maximum amount of electricity into the grid.

      It's like these two things are connected, or something.

      People need a lot less electricity at night. Since solar tends to reduce peak loads, its impact on overall electricity costs is very favourable.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 1:16am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      It's not hard to see Tesla's new home battery system and do the math. See, it's not going to be long before some people are able to cut the cord in another way, or simply consume a significant amount less electricity than they used to. FFS with our technology the sun is all we should need. The only push back is found in old status-quo driven crony capitalistic megacorps that apparently at some point earned the right to never have their business model disrupted. We must have missed the memo.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Laughing at Stasiland (profile), 24 Mar 2016 @ 6:27am

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      Someone who has a science degree (needs citation)
      [does Trump University have science degrees?]
      but obviously has no skill in logic.

      LMAO at another shill

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sam c, 24 Mar 2016 @ 2:24pm

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      You are incorrect, Sir. Utilities are required to build capacity at 120% of demand. Just so happens, this peak demand comes during the daytime. Facing a solar system slightly west will enable solar production that nearly exactly matches demand curves for the utilities.
      While it is true that PV ratepayers rely on the grid, you are missing numerous savings enjoyed by the entire body of ratepayers from the contribution of solar PV ratepayers, including reduced demand, reduced T&D costs, reduced transmission losses, fuel hedging savings, etc... whether you like it or not, it is becoming more and more clear that solar ratepayers contribute more than their fair share to the grid and ought to be compensated for their investment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Fred, 24 Mar 2016 @ 7:50pm

      Re: Propaganda, not fact.

      For "someone with a science degree" it does not appear that you are using it. Was it in basket weaving science that degree was awarded?

      "THE SAME NUMBER" of power plants is not true as PV would displace a significant number of peakers. Furthermore, NextEra, the owner of FP&L has already stated that batteries will prevail by 2020; they know the writing is on the wall and will try to go all out to get the most money from Floridian customers, which they have trapped in subterfuge and ignorance. In addition, there is plenty of room for PV in Florida, to displace summer A/C peaker demand. FP&L makes money building power plants not avoiding them.

      The future belongs to PV and Li-Ion batteries. It will be interesting on how FP&L is dismantled in 15 years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    webster (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 7:53am

    class action?

    ...for those who were deceived and contributed to the utilities' "Consumers for Smart Solar."

    I would think the utilities should notify and then refund to those who want their money back. Or at least have it contributed to a legitimate solar promoter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:40am

    Hmm

    "...and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."

    This is the tricky language in it that will be abused by lawyer interpretation. I'm guessing they will try to foist the entire cost of backup plants on solar users or try to increase the cost of electricity generated by backup plants. The other thing they will do is get the Florida Public Service Commission to create an inflated grid access cost for solar users.

    I'm wondering if the electric grid in Florida is subsidized with tax money or are the utilities required to maintain it on their own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sam c, 24 Mar 2016 @ 2:34pm

      Re: Hmm

      The second sentence of the Sham Solar amendment is misleading in the extreme. What is completely invisible to voters is how this sentence will "necessarily challenge" the equal rates standard in current Florida law and therefore, net metering. DO NOT, if we see the Sham Solar amendment on the ballot, vote yes. Again, do not vote for Consumers for Smart Solar; we will not be getting more solar in Florida, we will be getting less. I am a solar contractor. I know. Thanks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:47am

    Already happened in Nevada

    What's happening now in Florida already happened in Nevada. Solar City made a big deal of laying off employees and leaving Las Vegas; I imagine other folks RIF'd and left as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 9:31am

      Re: Already happened in Nevada

      It's beginning to happen in California as well.

      Utilities are changing the rules and financial benefits of net metering, they're adjusting rates to penalize solar users (charging more for the people who use less power), and clearly attempting to remove the benefit entirely so that people will stop adding residential solar to the infrastructure.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pixelation, 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:25am

        Re: Re: Already happened in Nevada

        "It's beginning to happen in California as well."

        At least the CPUC didn't cave to PG&E pressure completely.

        Here is what got passed...

        "According to CALSEIA, the NEM 2.0 decision does the following:

        – Maintains full retail credit for net metering and guarantees that customers who install solar under these rules will not be subject to future changes to these rules for 20 years.

        – Creates an interconnection fee between $75 and $150 and assesses “non-bypassable charges” that equate to $8-9/month for most residential customers.

        – Rejects utility proposals for demand charges, capacity fees, grid access fees, standby charges and monthly netting.

        – Requires residential NEM 2.0 customers to be on time-of-use rates.

        – Expands access to solar for renters and retains access for farmers.

        – Defers work to expand solar in disadvantaged communities to the next phase of the proceeding."According to CALSEIA, the NEM 2.0 decision does the following:

        – Maintains full retail credit for net metering and guarantees that customers who install solar under these rules will not be subject to future changes to these rules for 20 years.

        – Creates an interconnection fee between $75 and $150 and assesses “non-bypassable charges” that equate to $8-9/month for most residential customers.

        – Rejects utility proposals for demand charges, capacity fees, grid access fees, standby charges and monthly netting.

        – Requires residential NEM 2.0 customers to be on time-of-use rates.

        – Expands access to solar for renters and retains access for farmers.

        – Defers work to expand solar in disadvantaged communities to the next phase of the proceeding."

        Glad I'm grandfathered in.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Stosh, 23 Mar 2016 @ 10:01am

      Re: Already happened in Nevada

      And thank GOD it did, those of us who don't have solar panels are very tired of paying for the one who do. Solar proponents never want to pay for the very expensive equipment necessary to attach thousands of small point source generation sites without causing spikes in the distribution system.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        LAquaker, 23 Mar 2016 @ 1:29pm

        Re: Re: Already happened in Nevada

        ''And thank GOD it did, those of us who use a bus and walk are very tired of paying for nontaxable automobile real estate, 4,6 and 8-10 lanes (with medians and expansive grade separation) for mean and selfish 4,000 pound 'personal' transportation. Hauling their own living spaces, thousands upon thousands of one-person steel contraptions burning a thousand person's oxygen just to commute to the job. Car proponents never want to pay for the very expensive equipment necessary to attach thousands of small point source personal cars without causing spikes in the distribution system, stealing 20% of everyone's time in 'traffic jams'. They will pry my rolling iron rec room from my cold dead hands!''

        Fact is, an early 1990's study paid for by the State Of California showed that if 10% of drivers attached their electric cars to the grid when at home, this state would never need to build another central power generator. And that was BEFORE the obscenity of California's BlueBook electric 'deregulation'.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        michael, 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:39pm

        Re: Re: Already happened in Nevada

        "And thank GOD it did, those of us who don't have solar panels are very tired of paying for the one who do. "

        Las Vegan here: Did you notice that your bill went down after the incentives were changed? Because if so, you're a liar.

        The only difference is that NVEnergy is now pocketing a few more pennies from your bill than they were before, so you're subsidizing Warren Buffet instead of a few solar panels. Congratulations on your utter lack of insight and forethought.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mrharrysan, 23 Mar 2016 @ 9:57am

    Karl, this has already happened in Arizona. Utility company dark money funded the election of corporation commissioners who immediately approved rate hikes on solar customers, thus wiping out the savings of having solar panels on your home.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jsMcGuy, 23 Mar 2016 @ 3:18pm

    Nevada's NV Energy Just pulled a similar stunt. I have never seen an industry dry up so quickly. NV Energy got some anti solar legislation passed and it seemed like the next day there was not a solar installing company left in the state. great for berkshire hathaway stock holders bad for everyone else....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Mar 2016 @ 1:23am

      Re:

      It's almost like the Solar Companies should fight back if they want to be able to play in the space. If the utilities can buy laws so can big solar.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    fred, 24 Mar 2016 @ 7:35pm

    Utility thievery

    Worse of all, FP&L is pushing the FPSC to raise their pure profit from $1.6 billion a year to $1.9 billion a year. They already spend upwards of $300 million a year on buying Tallahassee, now they want to extract that same amount from their users so that their users pay directly for their Tallahassee buyout.

    Their pure profit should be brought down to $800 million. i.e. 5%, no body else makes 10.5% profit GUARANTEED these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jeff in Dallas, 23 Apr 2016 @ 9:55am

    Disagree with article

    Its a good law. We're tired of paying the costs for those who install solar. 30% of the cost of installation already comes out of my paycheck in the form of federal tax. Then we're forced to buy their excess solar at retail rate even if we don't want or need it. Then we let them off paying their fair share of the grid costs. Yes, they are reliant on the grid just like the rest of us.

    Solar is great but if you go solar then pay for it. Don't put the real costs off on other people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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