Millions of Florida residents lost power afterHurricane Irma raged through the state. But homeowners with solar energy installations couldn’t use them during the outage – or they’d be breaking the law. State coderequires people to connect their homes to the local electric grid – and when parts of it were damaged after the hurricane, even those homeowners with solar power were legally obliged to sit in the dark.
Florida Power and Light (FPL), which is one of the state’s major suppliers of electricity, has lobbied against letting people power their own houses with solar panels, according to Miami New Times. On their website, FPL says, “Operating your renewable system without the bi-directional meter can result in an inaccurate meter reading causing your bill to increase.”
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Up to 40 percent of Floridians lost power after the hurricane. Residents were angered because under FPL’s rules, if its system goes down, solar power systems must be shut down as well. According to Miami New Times, state rules say customers must install a switch so their solar systems can be disconnected from FPL’s systems. But residents can’t flip the switch to power panels during a disaster. FPL can even disconnect solar panels from the grid without warning homeowners.
Under FPL’s net metering guidelines, “Renewable generator systems connected to the grid without batteries are not a standby power source during an FPL outage. The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”
Miami New Times says people have criticized FPL for spending money on lobbying rather than on hurricane-proofing grids. The Energy and Policy Institute found a FPL lobbyist drafting anti-solar laws for Republican state representative Ray Rodrigues this April. FPL contributed $15,000 to Rodrigues’ campaign. According to the Miami New Times, the Sunshine State trails behind other states in solar adoption due to power company influence.