Florida Gov. DeSantis surprises with veto of solar net-metering bill

Rooftop solar in Florida gets a last-minute reprieve thanks to the Republican governor’s unexpected opposition to legislation penned by utility lobbyists.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Gage Skidmore)
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) vetoed an unpopular solar net-metering bill on Wednesday. The surprise move handed a last-minute reprieve to solar industry groups and supporters who feared the utility-backed legislation would have undermined the economics of rooftop solar systems in the state. 

In issuing the veto, DeSantis cited the bill’s potential to raise costs on Florida residents in the midst of increasing prices for food and gasoline. The state of Florida should not contribute to the financial crunch that our citizens are experiencing,” he wrote in a four-paragraph veto letter.

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The bill, HB 741, has faced public opposition from solar companies, consumer groups, businesses and veterans organizations. A recent poll commissioned by pro-solar groups found that more than eight in 10 respondents expressed support for net metering as it now exists, including 76 percent of registered Republicans. 

There’s extremely broad bipartisan support for solar in Florida,” said Heaven Campbell, Florida director of the Solar United Neighbors nonprofit group, in a Wednesday interview. People want to go solar for many different reasons,” but one chief reason is to reduce electric bills that are among the highest in the Southeast U.S., she said.

HB 741 would have changed the net-metering structure in the state, reducing the rates that utilities pay rooftop-solar owners for the excess power their solar systems produce starting in 2024, from the current rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour down to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2029. The bill, which would have applied to new solar customers but not the roughly 100,000 existing net-metered solar customers in the state, would also have allowed state regulators to consider additional fees on owners of new net-metered solar systems. 

The original text of the bill, which was amended in the state legislature in March, was largely written by lobbyists for Florida Power & Light, the state’s biggest utility, an investigation by the Miami Herald and Floodlight revealed in December. 

FPL and Duke Energy Florida, the state’s second-largest utility, have been trying for years to change the state’s net-metering policy. They supported an unsuccessful ballot initiative in 2016 that could have opened the door to reducing compensation from utilities to net-metered solar customers, and in 2020 they asked the state’s Public Service Commission to impose additional costs on net-metered customers. 

The utilities have argued that existing net-metering policy unfairly shifts the costs of maintaining power grids to customers who lack solar. Similar arguments have driven utility efforts to reduce net-metering compensation in many of the 47 states that now have some form of this rooftop solar policy, including the nation’s top solar state, California.

But rooftop-solar supporters argue that utilities have overstated the financial burdens that net-metering policies impose on all customers and have underestimated the value that customer-owned solar provides in the form of locally generated, carbon-free energy. 

HB 741 opponents also pointed out that less than 1 percent of Florida’s 10.5 million electric customers have net-metered solar systems, well below the levels that could represent a significant financial burden on the rest of the state’s utility ratepayers. 

I’m glad the governor recognized the devastating impacts that HB 741 would have on our economy, workforce, and energy freedom,” Katie Chiles Ottenweller, Southeast regional director at the nonprofit group Vote Solar, said in a Wednesday statement.

We normally don’t attribute Gov. DeSantis with supporting positions that advance clean energy and the fight to combat the climate crisis, which is ravaging many coastal communities in Florida,” Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said in a Wednesday email. But, in this instance, he made the right decision. It is imperative elected leaders and energy regulators in other states reject similar efforts to quash residential solar programs.”

For more on Florida’s solar net-metering debate, read this March 2022 article from Canary Media contributor Elizabeth Djinis.

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media.