Hurricane Irma stripped an estimated 6.8 million Floridians of power during its sweep through the state last week. Currently, 20,000 homes and business in South Florida still don't have power after over a week, according to the Sun Sentinel. However, homeowners with solar energy installations looking to get back on their feet couldn't use them during power outages. Florida state code requires homes to be connected to local power grids. When those grids experienced damage, any homeowner using alternative power to get their homes back on was breaking the law.
Florida Power and Light (FPL) has lobbied the Florida state government numerous times against personal solar panels. Their website even notes that "Operating your renewable system without the bi-directional meter can result in an inaccurate meter reading causing your bill to increase." Effectively, FPL -- one of Florida's major electricity suppliers -- did not want Floridians using alternative power.
Solar panel owners are not happy. Michael Grunwald is a senior writer for the news outlet POLITICO who also happens to be a Floridian.
Not mine! FPL didn't let me use my solar panels. They do all they can to stop people from generating power instead of buying it from them. https://t.co/5qDkII24Ny— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) September 16, 2017
Yes, including me. I even have solar panels but can't get juice from them during a blackout because of FPL's rules. https://t.co/w6jX32FqYH— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) September 12, 2017
The Miami New Times explains the FPL situation a bit further. All solar panels have to connect to the grid, so standalone units like Elon Musk's Powerwall and SolarCity solar roofing tiles would be illegal. It also means solar power users typically have to legally pay for electric departments for the power they don't need.
Those who take issue with the state code point to FPL's extensive lobbying to benefit not only themselves but other electric departments around the state. Furthermore, state rules require customers looking to use solar power to have a switch. This allows the solar systems to be disconnected from FPL's systems. However, residents cannot flip the switch from FPL to solar during a disaster. FPL, on the other hand, can disconnect solar panels from the grid without warning homeowners.
Why? It's all due to FPL's metering guidelines.
"Renewable generator systems connected to the grid without batteries are not a standby power source during an FPL outage," the company's website said. "The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid."
The frustrations with FPL go beyond restricted solar access. The company and its parent company NextEra Energy rake in billions of dollars of profit each year, largely thanks to state laws and effective lobbying, the New Times noted. The only real 'benefit' is that you can sell excess power back to the company. Yet, the provision isn't much when additional application fees are added.