If you think getting home improvements approved and ultimately completed in Florida is a hassle now, if monopoly power companies get their way, just wait until you try to install solar panels.
A bill currently under consideration in Florida’s Capitol would impose extensive disclosure and needless paperwork requirements on sellers of rooftop-solar panels and other renewable energy systems—to include everything from performance guarantees to tax advice, insurance and a requirement to project future utility rates.
H.B. 1351 by state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and S.B. 90 by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, both would implement provisions of Amendment 4 by exempting solar and other renewable-energy devices from ad valorem property taxes. The Senate bill sticks to its objective by simply codifying the amendment, which was approved by 73 percent of Florida voters last August. The House version, however, goes beyond implementing the amendment by regulating the sale, financing and lease of these energy-generation systems, in addition to imposing other conditions.
Indeed, some requirements prescribed in the bill appear to be reasonable at first glance, as they relate to safety and reliability. However, they are superfluous, since installers of these devices are already regulated by the Department of Business and Financial Regulation and are required to be licensed and insured. Additionally, consumers already enjoy legal protections against fraud and other deceptive transactions with Florida’s very tough Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
One provision in the bill even requires installers to comply with undefined “standards” set by the local utility company, which would promote an inherent conflict of interest between the renewable electricity source and the utility that stands to lose business from it.
Nevertheless, proponents cite “consumer protection” as justification for these onerous requirements, as so often is the case with excuses for a swelling nanny state to protect us from ourselves. In reality, all too often, these are nothing more than crony capitalist attempts to protect other industry players.
That, in fact, appears to be the case here. Utility companies have historically been the only option available to purchase electricity. With the rise of solar and dramatic decreases in the cost of renewable energy, consumers now have an alternative. Utilities obviously perceive this as a threat to their business model and businesses unaccustomed to competition generally do not like it.
So while they cannot altogether ban the sale of solar panels and the like, what better way to discourage their purchase than to complicate the process to obtain them? According to a recent Miami Herald investigation, some of H.B. 1351’s language actually was drafted by Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility.
If there are legitimate safety or consumer protection concerns with the sale of renewable-energy generation systems that current law does not address, a debate should indeed be had and legislation to address it considered. However, the bills currently under consideration should stick to implementing and codifying the amendment Floridians overwhelmingly approved—not shielding utility companies.
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