Oct 2, 2018

Solar Energy Trends in Florida

Most energy experts agree that Florida has the potential to be one of the nation’s top 10 states in solar energy production, due to its sunlight and population density. Over the past decade, however, Florida has lagged behind other states.

Regulatory uncertainty for rooftop PV installations, energy pricing concerns and record-low natural gas prices constrained the growth of the solar industry in Florida. Additionally, a decades-old Florida Supreme Court case prohibiting the sale of surplus solar energy to third parties has limited growth in the commercial solar market.

In recent years, significant challenges have hindered what could be a thriving industry for this state: 

  1. Solar Politics

    Three years ago, the Floridians for Solar Choice proposed a constitutional amendment to give state citizens a right to install and own solar energy and to pre-empt regulatory restrictions on small-scale solar energy. This amendment was opposed, however, by electric utilities who said it was an overreach that had significant unintended consequences. The amendment never made it to the ballot. In response, electric utilities in Florida countered with a constitutional amendment to place restrictions on certain solar devices. That amendment failed on the ballot.

  2. No Standard or Goals for Renewable Energy

    Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories have adopted a renewable portfolio standard, while eight additional states have set renewable energy goals, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Florida has no standard or goals for renewable energy. The Solar Energy Industries Association and other renewable advocates believe Florida generates approximately 0.65 percent of its energy from solar power, partially powering 221,000 homes in a state with 21 million people. Florida ranks third in the nation in solar potential, but 12th in solar capacity installed. 

  3. Regulatory Uncertainty for Rooftop Solar

    Also driving the conversation in Florida is its exposure to power outages due to hurricanes. Recently, Florida considered legislation to pilot a program that would combine solar PV installation with battery backup technology at strategic local law enforcement locations. This pilot would have generated some measure of energy independence from the electric grid in the event of a power outage and serve as a model for the future that would provide sustained power to first responders after a storm. 

Despite Barriers, Solar Energy Growing in Florida

Solar barriers aside, the state has seen a recent uptick in the market. Record-low solar PV costs, favorable laws on utility-scale solar projects, a utility desire to build out more of these large solar projects and a recent constitutional amendment fixing Florida’s property tax laws on renewable energy devices have resulted in an a modest increase in solar energy production. And just a few months ago, the Florida Public Service Commission approved Sunrun’s request for declaratory statement, approving its residential lease contract for use in the state — the first of its kind in Florida. This decision green-lights a new way to install rooftop solar without a costly upfront purchase. This could be the beginning of a new trend that adds more solar capacity in Florida.

As the renewable energy landscape in Florida continues to develop, the McGuireWoods Consulting team in Tallahassee is tracking updates and staying abreast of legislative news in the energy sector. With nearly five decades of combined government relations experience in Florida, McGuireWoods Consulting has the ability to engage relevant decision-makers and ensure clients receive the best possible guidance as energy trends continue to develop in the state. 

 

This article is part of a series of reports on our experience in the energy sector. Read other articles in the series: