Utilities spend $2.3M backing Florida solar initiative against 3rd party sales

Dive Brief:

  • Millions of dollars were raised just last month in the fight between two competing solar ballot initiatives, the Miami Herald reports, with the utility-backed side raising more in October than its opponent has all year.
  • Consumers for Smart Solar raised $2.3 million in October, with about half of that coming from Florida's largest utilities.
  • On the other hand, Floridians for Solar Choice, a group advocating for third-party sales of solar power, raised more than $475,000 last month.

Dive Insight:

In the ongoing battle between competing solar initiatives in Florida, the utility-backed initiative has the clear financial advantage, the Miami Herald reports, due in no small part to the deep pockets of the state's power companies. 

The state's utilities have shelled out millions, the paper found, to sponsor a ballot initiative that they say would boost solar in the state, but would not legalize third party ownership of rooftop solar. That easily outraised the campaign of Floridians for Solar Choice, aimed at opening the door for third party sales

The race for more funding came after the state Supreme Court approved the wording of a ballot initiative from Floridians for Solar Choice last month. 

Consumers for Smart Solar raised more than $2 million last month, with the largest chunk coming from Florida Power & Light: a $420,000 donation. Tampa Electric Co. donated $381,000 as well. The top five donors to the campaign include 60 Plus Association, which gave $350,000; Let’s Preserve the American Dream, which donated $300,000; and Checks and Balances for Economic Growth, adding $289,965.

By comparison, Floridians for Solar Choice raised less than half a million in October and almost all came from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund, which donated $467,600. The group's other top-5 donors fall off quickly, and include an individual giving $150.

Consumers for Smart Solar's petition would change state law to allow residents to sell their generation to the state’s utilities and would guarantee there will be no cost-shift to non-solar owners. The Solar Choice group would allow for third party sales of electricity, authorizing solar owners to sell up to 2 MW of power per day to customers on the same or neighboring properties.

The groups need almost 700,000 signatures to get on the ballot, and despite the funding difference, the Herald reports the Floridians for Solar Choice group has secured more backers.

TPO financing revolutionized the solar business after 2010 and changed residential solar by bringing billions in institutional money into the sector to eliminate the barrier of high upfront costs. 

In 2014, TPO-financed solar sales were 72% of the market, according to "U.S. Residential Solar Financing 2015-2020," a report from GTM Research.

Although an increasing number of homeowners are now taking advantage of low interest rates and low installed costs to own their own solar arrays, TPO is expected to be 63% of the U.S. market this year and remain over half the market for at least the next few years.

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Top image credit: from Georgia Power (used with permission)