Solar Advocates Ask Court To Force JEA To Restore Net Metering Policy

Feb 27, 2019

Solar United Neighborhoods, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Earthjustice have together filed a motion for summary judgement regarding their lawsuit against Jacksonville’s municipal utility, JEA, and its decision to rollback a nearly decade-old net metering program.

The original lawsuit was filed in April, 2018, shortly after JEA announced the change to its net metering policy.

Related: JEA Sued Over How It Compensates Customers With Solar Panels

The plaintiffs are asking the court to rule that JEA’s decision violates Florida law, specifically statute 366.91 regarding renewable energy.

“Luckily, in Florida we have a statute that requires a net metering program to be employed by all utilities,” said Earthjustice attorney Bonnie Malloy. “That is why we brought this suit, to hopefully get JEA in particular, and any other utilities who are trying to slowly dismantle their program, to follow suit and comply with the law.”

If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor, JEA would be compelled, without a trial, to again offer net metering to its customers.

The term net metering refers to a metering and billing methodology where customer-owned renewable energy generation offsets that customer’s electricity consumption on site.

Depending on the size of a customer’s solar installation, excess power may also be generated and automatically sent back to the utility, later appearing as a credit or reimbursement on the customer’s bill.

“The whole purpose of net metering - it basically incentivizes, financially, the installation of solar panels because it reduces the cost, it helps pay off the up front costs over a shorter period of time,” Malloy said.

According to Malloy, JEA’s original net metering policy allowed customers to offset the energy they consume on a one-for-one basis. “So basically the same value was given for the energy that they consumed with the energy they produced.”

At the time that value was 10.3 cents per kilowatt hour.

“The current policy that JEA has enacted terminated, by their own terms, the net metering program and now offers customers 3.25 cents per kilowatt hour that they send to the grid, or to JEA, instead of that roughly 10 cents per kilowatt hour,” Malloy said. “So roughly a third of the value solar customers are receiving now for the energy they produce.”

According to Solar United Neighbors, JEA’s new policy reduces the value of rooftop solar and doubles the amount of time it takes for a solar customer to recoup the cost of their investment.

Related: JEA Unveils Battery Rebates, Net Metering Changes For Solar, Wind Customers

“On the other side, JEA is receiving this energy, paying out only 3 cents roughly to the homeowners, then JEA turns around and sells that same energy essentially to the neighbor of the solar panel homeowner for the same roughly 10 cents per kilowatt hour that they are charging all the customers,” she went on to say. “So they are making a profit.”

“Jacksonville homeowners are eager to go solar, but they need a fair net metering policy to do so,” said Angela DeMonbreun, Solar United Neighbors of Florida Program Director. “JEA’s new policy severely limits who can benefit from going solar.”

Utilities across the U.S. offer net metering, according to Malloy.

“It has been attacked in other states by them [utilities] trying to basically dismantle the program because it isn’t profitable for the utility,” Malloy said. “There have been wins and losses in other states.”

“We feel the law is pretty clear, so we feel confident,” she said. “But crazy things can happen, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

JEA’s current policy only affects customers that have installed solar systems since April 1, 2018. Customers that installed their systems before that were “grandfathered” in to the earlier reimbursement rate for 20 years.

WJCT reached out to JEA but a spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.