Florida, the Sunshine State, should also be called the Land of Make Believe Solar Laws. When it comes to solar misinformation Florida is the Florida Man of distributing #FakeNews about its own solar policy. The utilities are not making you shut off your solar when the power goes out. Net-Metering is not illegal. Home Owners Associations aren’t setting up rules to make solar illegal. And contrary to popular belief, solar panel leasing is not illegal in Florida. No matter how many articles you read that tell you differently, Solar Leasing is NOT illegal.
Why the Confusion?
Florida has a highly politicized and publicized perceived ban on the third-party sale of solar electricity. When applied to solar panel financing this is commonly known as a solar power purchase agreement or solar PPA for short.
The structure of the Solar PPA made choosing solar so easy that (well qualified) homeowners simply had to choose to pay a lower rate for energy and a qualified solar energy company would come install the panels. No money up front and no complicated conversations about tax credits and rebate qualifications. The company installing the panels would own, operate, maintain, warrant, and even guarantee a certain amount of energy would be delivered or your money back. Because the company owns the solar (not the homeowner), it is called Third Party Ownership.
At one point in time, the third party ownership of solar through either a Solar PPA or the Solar Lease was responsible for over 70% of all solar installations in the U.S. This is where the confusion begins. Because Leasing solar is also considered third-party ownership, or third-party leasing it has commonly gotten confused in the Florida style debates we typically have about PPA’s.
So Third Party Ownership is Legal – Some Say it’s Not?
They are wrong. While the third-party sale of electricity (also a form of third-party ownership) is perceived to be banned, illegal, prohibited, taboo, or verboten the third-party ownership model using a solar lease is explicitly allowed. Because both solar Lease’s and solar PPA’s are a form of third-party ownership they frequently get mixed up. Even Julia Pyper, one the smartest, best, well-informed, knowledgeable, and pretty darn hip solar journalist has gotten it twisted (link). If Julia can make an error — nobody is safe — nobody. But that is the allure of Florida – it just draws you into its peninsular web of solar lies. #WebOfSolarLies
Solar Panel Leasing is Legal in Florida, but Solar PPA’s are not? What gives?
Yes and maybe. Solar Panel Leasing in Florida is most-definitely-legal.
Solar PPA’s may or may not be legal. They are certainly excluded from net metering, however, it has yet to be tested if a solar PPA is actually illegal or not.
The perceived ban of the third-party sale of electricity, or in less wonky terms – a solar company installing solar panels on your home and then selling you electricity by the kilowatt-hour (like your utility) comes from a court case a long, long time ago in which a wholly owned subsidiary of an investor-owned utility attempted to build a new co-generation facility through a joint venture and then sell the electricity generated to Pratt & Whitney Corporation on land which the joint venture leased from Pratt & Whitney Corporation — essentially an onsite power plant with one, very large, customer.
Long story short the Supreme Court of Florida upheld a decision by the Florida Public Service Commission (which regulates utilities) that limiting competition of the sale of electricity was in the best interest of the public and was best suited to be a service provided by government granted monopolies. The caveat to this case is that the company building the power plant was partially owned by the utility which had already been granted by the government a monopoly. So it was kind of in the best interest of the public at the time for the Florida PSC to not allow the utility to go building little-personalized power plants, to sell onsite electricity, all over the state all willy-nilly.
Nobody has bothered to test if the same outcome would prevail using a private company with no direct ties to the utility under the traditional solar PPA structure in Florida, however, it has been tested in North Carolina. In North Carolina, where solar PPA’s are also perceived as banned, but the state also has a very clear anti-monopoly law, Duke Energy, the nation’s largest investor-owned utility, kept it classy and sued a non-profit and a primarily African American Church for going solar and won (being appealed) for using a third-party sale of electricity agreement… so there’s that.
What Happened to that Florida Amendment?
Wasn’t there a solar amendment that gave away all of the solar power to the utilities? No. That. Did. Not. Happen.
During the 2016 Presidential election, a pro-solar advocacy group attempted to collect signatures to allow third-party sales of electricity.
The group was met with the full force and protibial fire and fury of ALL the investor-owned utilities in the state of Florida and some very cash flushed outside groups who are known for funding anti-climate, anti-consumer legislation. The utilities and their pals spent over $22 million in highly deceptive advertising even going so far as to bring the Florida Firefighters Union into the mix – who later retracted their support after figuring out they were duped.
At the end of the day, NEITHER amendment was signed into law. And neither amendment would have authorized or banned third-party financing using a solar lease. However, the amount of press Florida’s Amendment 1 received was constant, primarily negative – bigly, and much of it grouped solar leasing with the controversial solar PPA as if they were the same product – which to be clear – they are not.
So is Solar Panel Leasing Legal in Florida?
For the love — Yes. Solar Leasing is Legal in Florida. It always has been.
In a state where Floridians in almost all utility territories benefit from Grade A net-metering. Solar leasing is legal and customers who lease their solar can participate in Net-Metering (which also exists, is not banned, or illegal).