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Fla. bill would let commercial, industrial customers sell renewable power

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According to Florida's statutes, a "renewable energy source device" means equipment that collects, transmits, stores or uses solar, wind or geothermal energy.
Source: AP Photo

A Florida lawmaker recently introduced a bill that would allow commercial and industrial businesses to generate renewable energy on their property and sell the power to nearby businesses.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican, filed S.B. 446 on Oct. 4 for the Florida Legislature's 2020 session. The bill would allow the business or a contracted third party to "install, maintain, and operate a renewable energy source device" such as solar panels or energy storage on the business's building or property. The business or the contracted third party can sell electricity from the energy facility to a business that is "located immediately adjacent to the structure, within the same parcel as the structure, or on an immediately adjacent parcel."

Under the bill, a utility could enter into a contract with the business to install and manage a renewable energy generator for the business and sell the power to nearby businesses. The Florida Public Service Commission would be able to approve a utility's request to recover its costs of providing services to all customers, including businesses generating their own power, if the commission determines that the decline in electricity purchases due to businesses' self-generation would hurt other ratepayers.

If the business requires other services such as backup generation or transmission to connect to the grid, the utility can still recover the full cost of providing those services. However, electricity sales from a business's renewable energy generator would not count as retail electricity sales and would not be subject to regulation, even if a utility gets involved. Legislation to broaden who can generate and sell power, typically from renewable generation assets, beyond regulated electric utilities is introduced regularly in the Florida Legislature.

While the legislation does not mention electricity market regulation, it resembles some of the provisions in a ballot initiative to deregulate the state's wholesale and retail electricity markets. Citizens for Energy Choices has been circulating a petition to allow customers of investor-owned utilities to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity. The proposed constitutional amendment would require the Legislature to create laws, effective June 1, 2025, to allow competitive electricity markets.

The ballot initiative has been criticized by Florida investor-owned utilities, including NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light Co. and Gulf Power Co., Duke Energy Corp. subsidiary Duke Energy Florida LLC, Emera Inc. unit Tampa Electric Co., and Chesapeake Utilities Corp. corporate affiliate Florida Public Utilities Co., which would have to sell their generation assets and could only build, own and operate transmission systems if the constitutional amendment went into effect. The utilities have said the changes would dismantle regulatory safeguards and stability, and state Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the Florida Supreme Court to review the proposal. Other organizations, including the PSC and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, have spoken out against the ballot initiative.

S.B. 446 has been moved to the Florida Senate's Innovation, Industry and Technology; Commerce and Tourism; and Rules committees. The Florida Legislature's next session begins in January 2020. If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2020.