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JEA To Consider Limiting Reimbursment Amount For Rooftop Solar Customers


Jacksonville Electric Authority might revise a proposal to limit the amount it reimburses rooftop solar-panel users for their excess energy.

The municipal utility said Thursday it is considering a 30-percent decrease in reimbursement.

Originally, the plan was to grandfather in the city’s 500 rooftop solar customers, continuing to pay them more than 10 cents per kilowatt of power.

But now the JEA's board is considering a gradual decrease in reimbursement for all solar customers.

JEA CEO Paul McElroy said the proposed change is the result of comments made at a recent community forum.

“How do we have a long phase-in approach of taking the 10 and a half cents and moving it down a penny a year for three years?” McElroy said.

JEA’s board said it should pay customers less for excess solar for two main reasons: First, over the last few years the cost of capturing and storing solar energy has nose-dived. Second, the current solar incentive means lower-income customers who can't afford solar are subsidizing wealthier consumers who can.

But Jacksonville solar contractor Pete Wilking said JEA’s cost equation is skewed because it’s grouping large-scale solar farms with individual rooftop panels. Meanwhile, Wilking said the utility is ignoring how rooftop solar benefits all of its customers – not just the ones who have panels.

“That same kilowatt hour is essentially going to the house next door, going through that meter and JEA is collecting that revenue of that 10 cents for that kilowatt hour that was sold,” Wilking said.

Wilking added the reimbursement decrease will make it difficult for his company to find new customers. JEA tried to downplay the net metering change and has chosen to focus on a planned solar farm, which will increase the company’s solar capacity three times over. Under that plan, customers would also have the option to choose where their power comes from: coal or solar.

The board might vote on the proposals at its April 19 meeting. Meanwhile, critics said that’s too soon due to lack of time for public comment.

Still, a proposed ballot referendum could deflate the debate by cementing current utility laws in the state’s constitution. That utility-backed proposal bans solar-panel users from selling their power to peers and also reiterates that utility customers “have the right” not to pay for another customer’s solar incentives. A competing initiative allowing for peer-to-peer sales of energy and the use of solar incentives was withdrawn after a disagreement with a paid petition gatherer. That referendum will have to wait another two years to get a hearing.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.