Florida mulls bill to advance more solar plus storage, improve grid resiliency

Florida solar storage bill

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar are supporting HB 1133, filed in the Florida Legislature this week, that would demonstrate solar and energy storage’s ability to maintain grid resilience during natural disasters and states of emergency.

The bill establishes a pilot program in the Florida Keys to install on-site solar generation and energy storage to provide electricity to critical facilities during grid outages or failures, like the recent Hurricane Irma.

“As we’ve recently experienced first-hand with Hurricane Irma, there’s nothing more crucial in the wake of a disaster than power. Onsite solar energy storage systems are a forward-thinking solution to improving the security of energy supply at critical local facilities,” said Florida State Representative Holly Raschein, who is HB 1133’s main sponsor. “Given that Florida is the Sunshine State, it only makes sense to tap into this resource when planning for stronger communities that are more resilient in recovering from a disaster.”

The pilot program will measure the benefits of resilience assistance to support the energy needs of critical facilities, such as emergency shelters, hospitals and health facilities, airports, and emergency response units, like police and fire departments. Solar and energy storage can immediately offset these facilities’ power needs, provide backup energy during a grid outage, and store energy isolated from the utility’s electrical system for emergencies. They also eliminate the need for back-up diesel generators.

“This is a crucial step in preparing Florida for future emergencies and we thank Rep. Holly Raschein for her leadership,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Making sure our first responders and critical facilities have the power they need to deliver life-saving services during emergencies should be a top priority for any state, and solar plus storage is the easiest and most effective solution. This pilot program will demonstrate the effectiveness of solar and storage in maintaining grid resilience and help lawmakers implement this strategy on a larger scale.”

“Solar energy is already becoming a huge success story in Florida, and the excitement around new battery technology has been growing since it proved itself in the days after Irma, keeping lights and refrigerators on for families when the power grid was down for days,” said Scott Thomasson, Southeast Director of Vote Solar. “Scaling solar and energy storage as a strategic backup resource during disasters could have a real impact on people’s lives and security.”

The solar industry urges the Florida Legislature to pass this bill, implementing the pilot programs and corresponding Florida Solar Energy Center study measuring the benefits of the program.

— Solar Builder magazine

Florida keeps solar momentum going, governor signs SB 90

Florida solar amendment

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 90 (SB 90), “Renewable Energy Source Devices,” into law, which extends a property tax exemption for renewable energy installations, including solar, wind, and geothermal, on both commercial and residential properties. The legislation implements the Amendment 4 ballot initiative passed by Florida voters in the statewide primary last August, with 73 percent voting for approval, well above the 60 percent needed to adopt an amendment of the state constitution. Gov. Scott’s signature follows unanimous approval of SB 90 in both chambers of the Florida legislature. The legislation goes into effect July 1, 2017.

Florida’s solar market grew by more than 200% in 2016 while solar jobs surged 25 percent, according to according to GTM Research and the SEIA’s U.S. Solar Market Insight Report. The state is the 12th largest solar market and has the fifth most solar jobs in the country.

Among renewable energy groups, there was much rejoicing:

“We thank Governor Scott for signing this bill to carry out the desire of Florida voters to see more renewable energy in the Sunshine State,” said Maria Robinson, associate director of energy policy and analysis for Advanced Energy Economy (AEE). “By signing the bill to implement Amendment 4, the Governor has removed a critical barrier to growth, allowing for more residential and commercial customers to choose advanced energy options like solar power, and spurring growth of advanced energy companies and jobs in Florida.”

“This legislation will help Florida take its rightful place as a solar star. The state’s market doubled last year and we expect this new law will help Florida become one of the top five solar states in short order,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “We are particularly enthusiastic about the strong consumer protections in the legislation that provide transparency to customers and clear rules of the road for solar installers. We thank Governor Scott, Senator Brandes and Majority Leader Rodrigues for their leadership on solar and support for our industry’s growth.”

“Florida has tremendous solar resources and this legislation will only enhance investment across the state,” said Colin Meehan, Director of Regulatory and Public Affairs at First Solar, a leading global provider of advanced PV solar systems. “Utility-scale solar is increasingly competitive and this legislation will help us continue to do business in Florida bringing reliable, affordable, clean energy to Floridians.”

Net metering revival in Nevada brings back Vivint Solar, Sunrun

Background on SB 90

This legislation implements Amendment 4, which exempts tangible personal property tax on solar or other renewable energy source devices installed on commercial and industrial property. Ultimately, 80 percent of the assessed value of a renewable energy source device, which is considered tangible personal property and is installed on real property on or after January 1, 2018, will be exempt from ad valorem taxation. SB 90 reflects an extension of the existing tax abatement for solar and renewable energy devices on residential property. The tax incentives would begin in 2018 and extend for 20 years.

Although the House and Senate versions of the implementing legislation were very different at the start of session, each side was able to iron out their differences in order to finalize the legislation that was signed by the Governor. The House passed an amended version of SB 90, 119-0, on May 3. On May 4, the Senate concurred with the amended version and passed the legislation 33-0.

The Amendment 4 ballot initiative was offered in the 2016 legislative session by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), along with Representatives Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) and Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach). It was passed by the Florida legislature in March of that year.

In 2015, advanced energy jobs in Florida, including solar energy, reached 140,000 workers, more than twice as many as in agriculture and more than in real estate, with advanced energy jobs expected to grow 4 percent this year. A report by Navigant Research for AEE valued the Florida advanced energy market at $6.2 billion in revenue in 2014.

Special Report: How to Make Money in the Midwest

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar legislation update: Indiana kills residential solar; Florida close to tax exemptions

First, the bad news.

Indiana says goodbye to net metering

Indiana solar net metering bill

Unofficially the most-talked-about bill in the solar industry, Indiana’s SB 309 was officially passed and signed into law, just before the end of the legislative session. The bill lost some of its teeth from a total “buy all; sell all” approach, but there is enough left to really disincentivize homeowners from going solar. In short:

  • It ends net metering for new customers after 2022.
  • It ends net metering for existing customers who replace or expand their solar system after 2017.
  • It empowers utilities, with the approval of the regulatory commission, to charge rooftop solar owners an additional fee for “energy delivery costs.”

Under the new law, the utility would buy the excess power at a little more than the wholesale rate — around 4¢ per kwh.
Luckily, for the moment, Indiana might be an outlier compared to its Midwest neighbors. Here’s our deep dive into the solar market in that region.

Now some positive news.

Florida bill approved to reduce tax barriers for solar

florida solar tax exemption

The Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 90, sending the bill to Governor Rick Scott. The measure implements Amendment 4 of 2016, which Florida citizens approved with 73 percent of the vote last August. This bill makes solar and renewable energy equipment on commercial buildings exempt from property taxes for 20 years, beginning in 2018. The measure also ensures proper consumer protections are in place.

Here’s what Tom Kimbis, executive vice president for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), had to say about it:

“The Florida legislature took a historic step forward today to expand solar across the state while recognizing Floridians’ desire for more choice over their energy options. And, importantly, the bill includes strong protections and increased transparency for consumers, helping ensure they fully understand solar transactions. Consumer protection is both the right thing to do and critical to the success of the industry and we congratulate the Florida legislature for advancing these protections without creating burdensome red tape for small businesses.

“SEIA applauds the leadership of Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues and Senator Jeff Brandes in working to pass this legislation. And we urge Governor Scott to sign the bill into law to give Florida citizens the energy choices that they overwhelmingly voted in favor of last year.”

— Solar Builder magazine

106-acre Big Bend Solar project completed in Tampa

Burns & McDonnell met substantial completion requirements on March 1 for commercial operation of the Big Bend Solar project in Tampa, Fla. The 106-acre solar photovoltaic (PV) project is owned and operated by Tampa Electric and is the largest single source of solar power in the Tampa area with capacity to serve 3,300 homes. Situated near the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, it was the first utility-scale solar project undertaken by Tampa Electric.

Big Bend solar plant

The plant produces 23 megawatts (MW) of DC capacity before connecting with the Tampa area power grid. It features over 202,000 thin-film PV panels installed in 1,772 rows supported by 14,000 direct-driven steel piles. The panels are outfitted with sensors and drive motors that enable them to track the movement of the sun, resulting in a more than 20 percent energy gain over fixed solar installations.

The Big Bend Solar Plant features inverters provided by SMA for conversion from DC to AC power and modules incorporating First Solar advanced thin film PV technology.

RELATED: New tool launches in Illinois to open community solar market 

“The Big Bend Solar Plant is significant in proving utility-scale PV is cost competitive with traditional generation for regulated utilities,” says Matt Brinkman, Burns & McDonnell Principal and national director of solar projects for the firm. “Solar costs have decreased dramatically.”

Tampa Electric, one of Florida’s largest investor-owned electric utilities, serves more than 730,000 customers in West Central Florida. Tampa Electric is a subsidiary of Emera Inc., a geographically diverse energy and services company headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

— Solar Builder magazine

Election postmortem: Lots of solar industry worry, but also reasons for hope

solar energy federal policy

The new face of federal energy policy.

Well, that was a fun year of not having to worry about the future prospects of the solar industry. Electing a climate change denier with zero knowledge about energy, one who made countless calls to make fossil fuels great again, to be president makes the (continued) extension of the ITC and the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative uncertain, especially with an all-Republican Legislature that is looking to take on the tax code. [takes breath] But, those are all worries and battles for future, really weird times. Beneath the creeping dread are some tangible solar industry victories and momentum, at least among the general population.

Yes, the people of Florida may be unconcerned about Trump’s energy ideas, but they did vote affirmatively that they want to preserve their rights to go solar. On the ballot was the controversial utility-backed Amendment 1.

“By voting to stop an amendment funded by the state’s wealthy utilities, Floridians made clear that they care about their rights—their property rights, their right to competitive markets and their right to go solar,” said Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “On course to be the top source of new power in the U.S. this year, solar provides reliable, affordable and clean electricity to Floridians and all Americans. The resounding rejection of Amendment 1 should send a message across not just Florida but all states not to curtail solar choice.

“Florida is now at a crossroads: it can embrace rooftop solar as a secure power source or allow the current electricity monopolies to keep playing games with homeowners,” Kimbis continued. “Florida’s leaders should recognize that Floridians want access to solar and the well-paying jobs and economic benefits that solar offers. With smart policy and greater competition, Florida can become a national leader in solar energy. We look forward to working with policymakers and solar companies from Tallahassee to Miami to ensure the positive momentum of today’s decision continues.”

Couple this with the continued state support of solar in California and New York, and the local case for solar may be just as strong as ever. One can at least hope, on this gloomy Ohio November Thursday.

Making that federal case

Advanced Energy Memo

This does overall make you wonder: Can a president that made a big deal about American jobs really run an administrative agenda that would kill thousands of solar jobs, especially when so many citizens are in favor of it? Sure, he said a lot of things, but having never held public office before, he hasn’t dealt with the sheer amount of voices from industries all over the country being in his ear. He hasn’t really looked into this issue. It has to be a possibility that new, compelling ideas could enter his brain now that the fight for power and votes has ended.

In the spirit of that sentiment, the Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), a national business association, says it sent a memo to the Transition Team for President-Elect Trump to outline ways to usher in a new era of secure, clean, affordable energy. As the new Administration prepares to take office, AEE provided recommendations to spur private investment, support job creation, improve grid reliability, and drive down costs for consumers.

“Our energy system is going through a transformational change in response to new technologies, new consumer preferences, and new challenges,” said Graham Richard, CEO of AEE. “Advanced energy can deliver greater reliability, savings in energy costs, and a cleaner energy system for the 21st century. The advanced energy industry can contribute to the many urgent needs facing our country, and we look forward to working with President Trump to deliver an advanced energy future for the nation.”

In its memo, AEE presented three key themes for the Transition Team to consider:

Modernize the electric power system as part of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. While spending on transmission and distribution is increasing, grid reliability is declining, just as new capabilities are needed. The Administration should target energy infrastructure investment to increase reliability at lowest cost to consumers. Investment opportunities include, but are not limited to: strategic transmission assets that bring advanced energy generated in remote locations to population centers that need it; non-transmission alternatives that solve electricity delivery problems at lower cost; infrastructure that supports vehicle electrification, which will reduce our dependence on oil; smart meters and advanced grid software that collect and share data to enhance reliability and resilience.

Transform utility business models to speed up power system progress. For investor-owned utilities and public power authorities to become full partners in creating an advanced energy future, rather than reluctant implementers of policies that conflict with their financial interests, the utility business model – and the regulatory structure that governs it – needs to change. The Administration should take action to help make that happen, at both federal and state levels.

Allow all technologies to compete in order to achieve objectives. Advanced energy technologies and services solve many problems. They reduce air pollution, increase grid resiliency and reliability, improve the efficiency and reduce the emissions of transportation, and more. But regulations need to be modernized to allow new technologies and services to compete, to allow all technologies to qualify as solutions where they are effective, and to allow companies the option of purchasing advanced energy where and when they want it.

— Solar Builder magazine