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Floridian (and Southern) Governmental Regulations Are Unfriendly To Solar Power 306

Posted by timothy
from the texas-seems-ok-about-this dept.
An anonymous reader writes with a link to a story in the LA Times: "Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkerson's property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days. But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power. Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts. While the precise rules vary from state to state, one explanation is the same: opposition from utilities grown nervous by the rapid encroachment of solar firms on their business."
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Floridian (and Southern) Governmental Regulations Are Unfriendly To Solar Power

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  • by Scareduck (177470) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:26AM (#47641657) Homepage Journal

    Not all states offer subsidies as generous as the solar industry thinks they deserve.

    This isn't news, it's politics by other means.

    • by LordLucless (582312) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:31AM (#47641673)

      While that's true for lots of the objections raised, it isn't true for all of them. This, for example:

      When Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., installed solar panels a few years ago, for example, the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power, threatened legal action. The utility said that only it could sell electricity in its service area.

      Government-created incumbent monopolies seem to be playing their part as well.

      • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:25AM (#47642227)

        When Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., installed solar panels a few years ago, for example, the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power, threatened legal action. The utility said that only it could sell electricity in its service area.

        I wish they had sued. They would have lost as a matter of law, without risk of a jury trial.

        I can just see the hearing now.

        "Your honor, I'd like to enter into evidence Exhibit A: a solar powered calculator from Dollar General.
        "Your honor, I'd like to enter into evidence Exhibit B: a solar powered yard light from Home Depot.
        "Your honor, I'd like to enter into evidence Exhibit C: a gasoline generator from Harbor Freight.
        "These products are legal in the state of Virginia, are they not? And they all generate electricity? So we're agreed that my client purchased equipment, and not electricity?"

        "Yeah, case dismissed, with prejudice. Plaintiff to pay defendant's court costs and attorneys fees."

        • by mpercy (1085347) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @12:05PM (#47642417)

          If they had purchased equipment, then that would be the case as you put it.

            But these instances focus on a particular business model where "customers" do not buy or install the panels. Instead, they allow another party to install panels at their expense (the installing company remains the owner of the panels throughout) while agreeing to buy electricity generated from the panels.

          In other words, they allow someone to build a solar electric plant on their property and further agree to purchase electricity from that plant. Kinda like Verizon and Sprint giving you "free" phones so long as you agree to a two year contract for cellular service. You might not buy the $800 phone otherwise.

          This keeps the property-owners initial costs low while locking them into a long term electricity contract. And it makes the provider a public utility--they build plants and sell electricity to customers--and therefore are unhappy to find themselves categorized and regulated as such under the laws governing public utilities.

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @12:07PM (#47642423)

          Except none of your examples involve selling the power. DVP isn't saying you can't generate your own power. They are just saying that you cannot sell it, especially over their grid. They have a mandate to provide power to everyone. If others can generate and sell power, they will pick the low hanging fruit, and sell power only in dense areas, and only to customers with a load profile that matches their generating source. DVP will be left with rural customers, and those with demand during peaks. Getting rid of the monopoly means also getting rid of the mandate, resulting in many people paying higher prices.

          • by pslytely psycho (1699190) on Monday August 11, 2014 @03:57AM (#47645511) Journal
            It's interesting that the state I live in has the cheapest electricity in the nation at $0.0875 per kwh and solar is easy to get, even encouraged with some of the most generous incentives in the nation.

            http://www.sunergysystems.com/residential-solar/washington-state-solar-incentives

            Yet, you see few installations even though the power companies here will happily pay you if you produce excess.

            The problem is, per kwh it is so inexpensive due to being mainly hydroelectric and has only increased 2% since 2011 that it takes a long time to pay off the investment as we just don't get the 200+ sunny days of Virginia or Florida.
            Western Washington gets around 160 days with at least partially sunny days and the east around 180 with moderate winters.

            Florida:
            http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Florida/annual-days-of-sunshine.php
            Virginia:
            http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Virginia/annual-days-of-sunshine.php
            Washington:
            http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Washington/annual-days-of-sunshine.php

            So if you live where you can get the most use out of it it's hard to get and heavily regulated. If you live where it's less effective and electricity prices are cheap (making for a very slow return on investment), it's easy to get.
            Why am I not surprised?

            2014 residential energy prices by state:

            http://www.freeby50.com/2014/06/residential-electricity-costs-by-state.html
        • by OneAhead (1495535)
          Your underlying assumption of good faith and common sense is flawed.
      • by BitterOak (537666)

        While that's true for lots of the objections raised, it isn't true for all of them. This, for example:

        When Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., installed solar panels a few years ago, for example, the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power, threatened legal action. The utility said that only it could sell electricity in its service area.

        Government-created incumbent monopolies seem to be playing their part as well.

        The keyword there is sell. They're not objecting to her generating solar power for her own use, they only object to her selling it to others. That's what a monopoly means.

    • by mbone (558574)

      All news is politics by other means.

    • Yeah, whatever. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:54AM (#47641781)

      Not all states offer subsidies as generous as the solar industry thinks they deserve.

      Its about long term thinking.

      The fossil fuel industry has so many tax and environmental subsidies and costs that go ignored by most people. Duke power dumps a shit load of coal ash into a river and WE the taxpayer pays for it in more ways than money. And there''s the economic consequences - that cost Duke nothing.

      Fossil fuels are old, polluting - MUCH more than the manufacture of solar cells and other green energy, and cause health problems that are paid down the line in increased healthcare costs and deaths.

      When fossil fuels are drilled or mined is has environmental and health costs. When it transported and burned it has environmental and health costs.

      When a solar cell is made, that's the end - all the environmental and health costs are over with. And nuclear? Pfft. The used fuel is nothing compared to the shit: mercury and other crop being spewed by fossil fuels.

      Why we can't progress beyond 19th century energy sources?

      • by Dorianny (1847922)
        Unfortunately rooftop mounted solar power on private residences is just a "feel good about doing your part" project that only makes sense to homeowners thank to generous subsidies but unfortunately really doesn't make any economic sense at all when it comes to it being part of the replacing fossil fuels solution.
    • by alen (225700)

      no, some states the utilities don't want to spend the money to buy the electricity from people and it's too much buying solar with a huge battery to store the electricity for later use.

      and for reference, here in NYC the only solar panels i see are on some businesses like whole foods who can afford to spend the cash for the wiring to send excess electricity back to the utility. and as a residential customer the last thing i want to do is pay for the wiring for a few people to make money on their homes

    • by fazig (2909523)
      The article isn't about subsidies it is about the prevention from the common business models of leasing solar panels.
      According to the article these lease agreements are illegal in Florida.
      This does sound like distortion of the market, because a common practice, that makes it possible for home onwers to create their own electrical power and sell excess power to other people, is stifled by laws.
      • by onepoint (301486)

        yep, correct, the lease business model states that they sell at full consumer rates to the electric company, not at the producers rate ( which is cheaper )

        so then I have to ask you...

        I own 100K sqft of usable, full sunshine roofs
        I lease that out and sell it at full market
        I get YOU and everyone around me to buy at full market rate (via the power company)
        I just profited off of you and the electric company
        How happy are you going to be that I did not have to pay for
        Maintenance of the line carrying my charge, t

    • by clovis (4684) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @12:57PM (#47642653)

      and furthermore this from the article:

      Under the typical business model for the solar industry, homeowners sign lease agreements with installation companies. The homeowners pay the cost of the panels over time and sell any excess power the systems generate. ...
      States where solar thrives typically pay homeowners attractive rates for the excess power they generate and require utilities to get a considerable share of their power from renewable sources. That gives companies an incentive to promote use of solar.

      What this is about is that the local utilities are FORCED to purchase the solar panel's excess generation whether they need it or not. At retail rates the utilities are forced to pay are in excess of what it costs the utility to generate and distribute power.

      Usual Wiki link, usual caveat,
      scroll down to see a list of states and see which states have retail pricing net metering.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N... [wikipedia.org]

      How long would Kroger stay in business if it bought apples orchards sold apples to Kroger for 50 cents and Kroger then sold them in stores for 75 cents, but the state passed a law requiring Kroger to pay 75 cents to any individual who brought apples into the store? It sounds like it would be a wash, except that Kroger's cost
      for the apples isn't actually 50 cents. Kroger has to buy land, pay taxes and utilities, transport the apples and so on.
      The solar power buy-back prices vary wildly across the US, In some states net-metering is the retail price like in the kroger analogy, and in others it is the wholesale price

      I can't think of any other industry besides solar whose business model requires laws to require a business (utilities) to purchase their own product from the customers at retail prices whenever the customer feels like having a surplus.

    • One problem is that the politics has overlooked two important things. First, those power companies build "base load" capacity plus "peak power" capacity. Often the peak-power capacity involves a different and more-expensive source of energy than the base-load capacity. Meanwhile, peak-power capacity is most often needed in the middle of the day (like for running lots of air conditioners). Well, solar power is pretty much ideal for matching the peak-power needs. There could be a legal compromise between
  • Good Old Boy State (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @09:35AM (#47641683)

    In no place is crony capitalism so entrenched as in the former states of the Old Confederacy, and Florida is one of the worst. (And, note, I say that as a native of the South.)

    • by ganjadude (952775) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @10:34AM (#47641991) Homepage
      clearly you dont live in NY, WAY worse than anywhere down south when it comes to crony capitalism. hell our governor is in some hot water now for starting a task force to curb corruption in politics....then canning the task force when they started investigating him... Fla is probably worse based on what I see in the news, but ill take north carolina or tenn politics over NY any day
  • by romanval (556418) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @10:06AM (#47641853)

    ...as long as their corporate/special interests "freedoms" take priority from the public's interests, everything will be peachy.
     
        Also see: Tesla vs. State auto dealership associations.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @10:12AM (#47641899)

    While the precise rules vary from state to state, one explanation is the same: opposition from utilities grown nervous by the rapid encroachment of solar firms on their business.

    What troubles me is the fact that even while all this is going on, the US government preaches to the world about capitalism and free enterprise. What hypocrisy!

    One definition of free enterprise that the US government conveniently chooses to ignore:

    Business governed by the laws of supply and demand, not restrained by government interference, regulation or subsidy, also called free market.

    • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @12:01PM (#47642403)

      That definition turns ugly repeatedly so often that the government has to get involved to stop the excesses (company stores, interlocking trusts, monopoly pricing, collusion, vertical market lock).

      The bad thing here is that the government was subverted by business and is no longer acting as a check and balance.

      A "free market" works for small businesses but not for large multi-national corporations and not even really for simply "large" corporations. It's sort of like how libertarianism can work under a strong government but fails badly when you have a weak government and very powerful people who use that power to abuse weaker people.

      There's also a "moral" component which makes capitalism work and be beneficial and that's eroded a lot since 1980.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        There's also a "moral" component which makes capitalism work and be beneficial and that's eroded a lot since 1880.

        FIFY

    • by meglon (1001833)
      What troubles me is that some people don't seem to understand the difference between "state" and "federal" government.

      That aside, we do not have a completely free market in this country... if we did, it wouldn't be long before there would be a massive number of people each year killed by products that don't meet basic safety regulations. When people talk about regulations being bad, they seem to miss the point that it's those regulations keeping their water from being polluted with lethal amounts of arse
    • by hey! (33014) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @12:23PM (#47642485) Homepage Journal

      One definition of free enterprise that the US government conveniently chooses to ignore:

      Business governed by the laws of supply and demand, not restrained by government interference, regulation or subsidy, also called free market.

      This is a definition of a free market that even Adam Smith would not have recognized. It was not regulation per se that he was opposed to, but mercantilism and state granted monopolies. He looked favorably regulations which protected workmen (citation Wealth of Nations I.10.121 [econlib.org]). He was also in favor of regulating banks where their actions endanger society, even at the expense of curtailing natural liberties (citation: Wealth fo Nations II.2.94 [econlib.org]
      ).

      The free market is free of price or supplier choice regulations. It's not necessarily free of regulation per se, such as regulations of weights and measures, of worker or consumer safety, or even of public morality (e.g. drugs and prostitution).

      In any case you can't use the actions of states to indict the federal government for hypocrisy, although there is plenty of other material for that.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Adam smiths view could only exist in the mind of an Economic Philosopher, and he new that.
        Adam Smith's philosophy was NEVER a practical for valid real world concept.

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @10:14AM (#47641905) Homepage

    " While the precise rules vary from state to state, one explanation is the same: opposition from utilities grown nervous by the rapid encroachment of solar firms on their business."

    Frankly, as someone that worked in the PV industry, I don't blame them for being nervous.

    Commercial PV is now cheaper than nuclear and highly competitive with both coal and NG turbines. Rooftop systems are nowhere near as competitive, but as they are on the retail side of the meter, they don't have to be. So that's one thing that's scary.

    And then there's the fact that PV, especially west and south-west mounted, provides power on-peak, precisely when the companies charge the most for their power. That's where they make almost all of their profit, so this is doubly super-scary.

  • by silfen (3720385)

    States where solar thrives typically pay homeowners attractive rates for the excess power they generate and require utilities to get a considerable share of their power from renewable sources. That gives companies an incentive to promote use of solar.

    Those "attractive rates" mean that the power companies pay retail for the power that you feed back to them, which automatically tells you that they are overpaying, since it doesn't include all of the expenses that power companies have. You know who pays for tho

  • Aw C'mon, everybody's whining about the subsidies and 'net metering hardware' that needs to be installed and maintained at each point of presence -- aside from the purchase of the solar and wind units themselves... at the core of it are a few folks discovering that power utilities are not as eager as they like them to be.

    For solar It's just a politics-entitlement issue because, frankly, the power these solar installations push back onto the grid is too tiny for the 'trouble' they cause. I am SO GLAD that m

    • by onepoint (301486)

      Very interesting overall...
      I wonder if it's possible at all to just retrofit in a modular way.
      for example, take 1 power line that goes down a few city blocks and touches 10 stepdown transformers
      Could that entire line be taken down along with the transformers and replaced???

      I can just see an entire roll out over 15 years and ton of employment if something like that was possible

      • I wonder if it's possible at all to just retrofit in a modular way. for example, take 1 power line that goes down a few city blocks and touches 10 stepdown transformers. Could that entire line be taken down along with the transformers and replaced???

        IF the area was literally paved with solar and wind, such that its output could not only provide for it completely but with surplus for export, then these resonance effects might be measurable and some adjustment to the original design might improve efficiency.

        But the effects that Dodson refers to in the video linked above occur over a much larger region, when large wind turbines create an ebb and flow of hundreds of megawatts at a time, fast ripples in a pond. It's not that the transmission lines cannot ha

    • by geekoid (135745)

      " We need reliable baseload power cheaper than coal first."
      If we keep using that, there won't be a down the road.
      We need to aggressive stop coal use NOW. I'm sorry if keeping the Earth habitable for human civilization inconvenient and expensive.
      \It's going to cost more money ONLY if you don't take health related issues from coal, global warming impact, and other ancillary cost into account.

      You sentiment was fin 25 years ago. If the pubs didn't fight to stop it 25 years ago, we would be off coal today.
      OH no

  • Big deal (Score:4, Informative)

    by Charcharodon (611187) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:09AM (#47642133)
    Big deal. Hook up the panels to something you find useful and tell the grid to take a hike.

    I've got 4 100 watt panels that send power to my desk. All my devices and this computer are powered by what is stored in the battery that is in a box nearby.

    My next 1000 watts will go to run the pool and all my backyard lighting. The power company can cry all it wants, but eventually my entire house will be off the grid.

  • Panels don't last as long in Florida when a storm comes and rips them off your roof every 20 years. Also our electricity is pretty cheap here.

  • by Catamaran (106796) * on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:20AM (#47642199)
    Several posts, mostly by ACs, suggest that solar panels are putting "dirty" power back into the grid. Is there any truth to that?
    They also suggest that net metering requires some extra infrastructure on the part of the utility, which I know to be completely false.
  • Florida Is Crazy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jim Sadler (3430529) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:44AM (#47642333)
    I have lived in Florida for 59 years and can tell you that at times the state is pretty much like an insane, psychopath who is loaded up on meth. So yes there is always corruption in play here. But when it comes to what seems to be over regulation keep in mind that most of Florida will have violent storms rather frequently. We build against a very real wind hazard. Some serious design challenges exist if one needs to safely mount solar collectors. Windmills would really have to be special as winds that gust at 200 mph will rip most things right out of the ground and your windmill may well become a missile that hits other homes. Our roofs have very little pitch to avoid being crushed by wind. They also tend to have very little overhang for the same reasons and our rafters must be far stronger than in other states. People in most states would be shocked if they understood the design differences require in our homes. Despite all of this we do have people going solar. It is just a bit more difficult here.
  • by mpercy (1085347) on Sunday August 10, 2014 @11:57AM (#47642379)

    A more correct interpretation is that some states have a strong Public Utilities Commission that narrowly interprets public utility laws in a way that negatively impacts *some* solar business models.

    In particular the solar business model that installs panels for free or at some low lease cost, and then sells the electricity created to the homeowner (and excess to the grid). In this case, the PUC sees the situation that someone has chosen to build a small electric power plant and sell electricity to a other parties. The notion that the primary customer is a single homeowner or business is immaterial. A company that builds electric power plants for the purpose of selling electricity to other parties is to be regulated under the same laws as any other electric utility company.

    If you want solar power for your house, you are free to buy panels and have them installed at your own expense and you can reap the benefits of your self-generated electricity. There may still be issues involving whether and how you can sell excess power back into the grid.

  • I read the article to try and find an example of the sorts of obstacles which "power company executives and regulators" had erected to keep home owners from using sunshine to generate their own electricity and found NONE. The article fails to mention a single one of the rules which prevented Mary Wilkerson (or anybody else) from installing solar panels. They do mention that the business models used by the businesses that sell solar panels are illegal in Florida, but they are less than clear what that busine
    • by geekoid (135745)

      The business models that have made solar systems financially viable for millions of homeowners in California, New England and elsewhere around the country are largely illegal in Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and some other Southern states. Companies that pioneered the industry, such as SolarCity Corp. and Sunrun Inc., do not even attempt to do business there.

      • What about those business models is illegal? Is it perhaps something that might reflect badly on the companies that practice it?
      • The business models that have made solar systems financially viable for millions of homeowners in California, New England and elsewhere around the country are largely illegal in Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and some other Southern states. Companies that pioneered the industry, such as SolarCity Corp. and Sunrun Inc., do not even attempt to do business there.

        What that appears to mean is that without the subsidies and questionable business practices, no one in their right mind would buy solar panels for their home. That may not be the case, but the fact that the article fails to spell it out, suggests that it is.

  • Utilities can only delay solar a little. PV solar, without subsidies, is just now becoming cheaper than fuel-powered electricity in sunny locations. Bloomberg reports the first non-subsidized solar plant to be built in Spain. [bloomberg.com]

    In the next decade, we'll see the end of subsidies and continued growth in PV solar. Anywhere the biggest daytime power load is from air conditioning, solar will win out.

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