SACE staffer George Cavros contributed to this post.
At the February 16th Jacksonville Electric (JEA) Board meeting, JEA staff asked its board to approve several solar initiatives – but one of them is a step backwards for customers that want to generate their own solar power. The staff is aggressively pushing its board to adopt a significant reduction in the credit that is provided to customers that send power back to the grid through JEA’s net metering policy. Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from a solar system to feed electricity back to the grid for a fair value.
The staff proposes to slash the credit from JEA’s current retail of 10.4 cents to a lesser rate of 7.5 cents. Melissa Dykes, JEA’s Chief Financial Officer, during her presentation argued that solar customers are imposing costs on the utilities system that other customers have to cover, but offered no cost studies to support the assertion. She disappointingly disparaged solar power’s reliability by stating that the “Sunshine State” isn’t all that sunny – a déjà vu moment for those that remember similar comments by the Chairman Art Graham of the Florida Public Service Commission.
JEA touts itself as being owned by the community and the community showed up in force to argue against the weakening of the company’s solar net metering policy. Solar company owners argued that the proposed weakening of net metering, which would make rooftop solar less financially beneficial for customers, would ultimately be felt by their workers and the community through lost economic development and jobs. FlaSEIA Executive Director Mike Antheil cautioned that a move like this by JEA would destroy local jobs and harm the local economy. Most encouraged the Board to slow down the seemingly rushed process to approve the change. In fact, it was clear that many from the community had only heard about the change several weeks, or even days ago, in spite of JEA’s alleged community outreach.
In these tough economic times, it’s critical to note that solar jobs are growing at 20 times the national average. Why put local economic development opportunity unnecessarily at risk without a rigorous economic analysis of the value of JEA’s customer’s solar systems?
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy raised the point that the proposal is a “solution in search of a problem.” With a customer solar penetration rate of about 1/10th of 1 percent, the notion that those customers are imposing costs on other customers lacks credibility – especially given that JEA brought no data to the presentation. In-fact, numerous reputable studies have concluded that solar users actually provide a net benefit to the power company’s system – in other words, solar customers pay more than their fair share.
Melissa Dykes did not respond directly to the points raised by the community. Instead, staff pushed for a vote at next month’s board meeting.
The 7.5 cent value is a default value based on the price that JEA will pay for power from an additional 38 megawatts (MW) of utility scale solar being developed and coming online in the 2016-2017 timeframe – the development of the additional solar MW was definitely the bright spot in the staff’s presentation. One board member floated the idea of bifurcating the approval process between the net metering policy change and the other solar initiatives. This seems a prudent path to take given the lack of data, and the absence of any discussion on the value of solar to the power company’s system. Many on the board are fairly new to their positions and asked probing questions to better understand net metering and staff’s position.
Wisely, at the close of the meeting, the board decided to postpone the date of their vote on the solar initiatives until April, allowing time for a public workshop in March to further discuss the net metering change. It is our hope that this discussion takes place in a way that is robust and backed up by thorough analysis – and meaningful stakeholder participation.
Stay tuned for more information both on the workshop and ways that you can help fight for rooftop solar. You can also watch the full JEA board meeting recording here.
 The Solar Foundation National Jobs Census, Solar Industry Creating Jobs Nearly 20 Times Faster than Overall U.S. Economy, January 2015, at http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/press-release-solar-industry-creating-jobs-nearly-20-times-faster-than-overall-u-s-economy/