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New report examines utilities’ efforts to fight solar

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)
(AP Photo/Matt York, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new report by Environment Florida’s Research and Policy Center examined efforts to undermine solar power advances in six states and at the federal level.

The report analyzed how investor-owned utilities have spent millions to slow the growth of solar energy in the Sunshine State.

Google’s Project Sunroof estimates 92% of Florida homes are capable of using solar power.

“We have the third-largest potential for rooftop solar in the country,” said Ryann Lynn, with Environment Florida.

But as of 2019, only 60,000 homes and businesses -- just over half a percent of the state’s electricity customers -- had installed rooftop solar.

“The overall policy framework is not conducive to rooftop solar growth,” said Lynn.

The new report blames the influence of investor-owned utilities for the slow growth of solar in the state.

In the 2014 and 2016 election cycles alone, investor-owned utilities funneled over $43 million to political candidates, parties and committees.

“These companies also paid for an army of lobbyists between 2014 and 2017. Between 90 and 100 lobbyists were employed annually, which is more than one for every two state legislators,” said Lynn.

The report advocates for policies that would allow non-utility solar producers, like a local business, to sell the energy they make to their neighbors.

It also recommends mandating utilities generate a portion of their energy using clean sources.

“It’s our voice that’s gonna overpower the lobbying efforts of these big companies. It’s gonna take all of us getting coordinated and unifying on our message to get more solar power in,” said Clifford Mitchem, with Crew Solar.

Florida currently ranks 26th in the nation for rooftop solar generation.

As of 2019, solar accounted for just 3% of the total electricity generated in the state.

The solar community has had some successes over the years, defeating the 2016 “Consumers for Smart Solar” constitutional amendment and an attempt by utility companies last year to roll back net metering, which allows solar producers to get paid for the energy they produce.