For advocates of all things renewable, including getting our power from the sun, it might be surprising to learning that running your home on solar panels in the US state of Florida is actually illegal.
The purpose of solar is not only to provide cleaner energy but also to cut down on utility bills. With new storage technology coming onto the market, there’s even the hope that you can make your entire home self-sufficient of the electricity grid and the big utility companies. In other words, we could soon own our power.
The issue of Florida laws came up after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma, a disaster which caused a significant amount of mayhem across the state. Millions of Florida residents were left without power and people began wondering why it wasn’t possible to have cheap, solar power installed.
After all, Florida has high levels of sunshine and it’s the perfect place for solar set ups.
The trouble starts with a company called Florida Power and Light which is one of the biggest utility companies in the state. Rather than putting money into the future of renewables and solar energy, the company has spent vast swathes of cash lobbying government. That means lawmakers have enacted legislation so that home owners can’t power their own homes with renewables like solar.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have solar panels. But you do have to connect them to the local grid and it’s illegal to simply run your own house in isolation, even if you have enough roof space and battery storage to do so. When a problem like Hurricane Irma occurs, it makes sense if you can power a home through any means, including solar, rather than depending on the utility company to fix the supply. Several weeks after the hurricane hit, there were still people, especially in remote areas who were without power.
According to IFL Science, the reasoning behind the legislation is clear:
“Homes that power themselves, even to a small degree, aren’t much good to companies like FPL. They’ve been cut out of the loop, which means they make less money from their consumers. They’d never openly admit this though, and instead, they’ve conjured up a rather curious explanation.”
In other words, the big utility companies don’t want people in Florida becoming too independent. It’s different for places like the UK where the grid is smaller and there are fewer off-grid properties that need to exist separately from the main supply.
The company itself points to potential health hazards and dangers if your house is wired up with what is called a bi-directional meter and even suggests that it could cause a threat to their workers who may be operating on the grid nearby (something for which there is little or no proof). Most people realise that this is simply a case of the utility company trying to keep hold of what they have.
In the US, things could get a lot more complicated for utility companies if battery technology happens to develop to the stage where you can easily produce power via solar panels and store it for use 24/7. We’re already part way there.
In the meantime, there are many who think that Florida Power and Light are fighting a vain and eventually pointless battle against progress. Americans have a track record of not listening to people telling them what to do and that includes big corporations. The utility companies and lawmakers might want to think about that before lobbying money begins to change hands.
According to TechDirt, it’s something that is beginning to hold the state back:
“The problem 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.”
The truth is that Florida may not be the only place where utility companies will begin to flex their corporate muscle with legislators, especially once we solve the issue of solar battery storage. Whether they can succeed or not, remains to be seen.