Jacksonville is the most populous city in Florida. Also known as Jax, Jacksonville sits in the northeast corner of the state on the Atlantic coast. Jacksonville is the outlet for the beautiful St Johns River. Jax is also home to Florida’s youngest population and the largest city park system in the country.
Sadly, like the rest of Florida, Jacksonville faces significant risk from climate change. So why would Jacksonville policymakers make it harder for homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint by going solar? And what does this mean for those looking into solar in Jacksonville? Read on to find out.
But first, why should we advocate for solar in Jacksonville?
The Benefits of Solar in Jacksonville
Solar is one of the easiest choices a homeowner can make to reduce their carbon footprint. Solar is such an easy decision to make because not only does solar reduce the average Floridian’s carbon footprint by 11,000 pounds per year, it also saves money.
Jacksonville has high solar potential, the federal tax credit, and friendly state policies for solar. All told, Jacksonville would be a great candidate for more residential solar. Unfortunately, despite these advantages, solar in Jacksonville has been hindered by local utility regulations.
The Death of Solar in Jacksonville
To understand how policymakers killed the solar industry in Jacksonville, it’s important to first understand a key policy that allows the solar industry to flourish. This policy is called net metering.
What is Net Metering?
Net metering is an accounting system through which solar customers can trade excess energy produced by their solar arrays during the day for a credit they can use to buy energy from the grid at night.
In the best-case scenario for the homeowner, this exchange happens at a one-to-one rate, meaning that when the homeowner sends 1 kWh to the grid, they receive a credit allowing them to get 1 kWh back. In general, net metering is protected by law in Florida. However, this policy is increasingly under threat.
Net Metering in Jacksonville
Jacksonville has made net metering less attractive for homeowners by replacing their net metering policy with what they call a distributed generation policy. Under the distributed generation policy, solar customers receive credit for the energy they send to the grid at a rate of about $0.03 per kWh, while the utility charges solar customers about $0.10 per kWh.
Therefore, instead of the one-by-one net metering rate that makes solar economical elsewhere, Jacksonville has a three-to-one metering rate. A homeowner must send 3 kWh to the utility in order to receive enough credit from the utility to get 1 kWh back. This disadvantageous rate all but kills the economic case for solar in Jacksonville.
The argument for changing net metering in this way hinges on the claim that net metering customers increase the burden on the grid and don’t pay their fair share. Utilities often argue that net metering customers increase the cost of electricity for other ratepayers. In essence, the argument against net metering is that it is an unfair subsidy. This argument has been refuted by a study from the Berkley Lab and the US Department of Energy, among others.
Existing Solar Customers in Jacksonville
Luckily, those who had solar systems installed before the new distributed generation policy was implemented still fall under the one-to-one net metering for twenty years.
Other Threats to Net Metering in Florida
Jacksonville’s utility is a municipal utility, meaning that it is regulated on the local level. The end of net metering in Jacksonville does not have direct implications for other utilities in Florida. However, it does set an ominous precedent. Indeed, other municipal utility companies in Florida have pursued changes to net metering and rate structures that would reduce the attractiveness of home solar.
Florida’s major utilities like FPL and Duke are investor-owned and not municipally managed. These utilities are managed by a governor-appointed board called the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC is re-examining net metering policy statewide in September 2020. We encourage you to make your voice heard and advocate for net metering by contacting your state senator, state representative, and the governor’s office.