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Jacksonville University Forum Energizes Supporters Of Solar Power

solar panel
Oregon Department of Transportation via Flickr

Solar panel users in Jacksonville are fighting a JEA plan to reduce the amount the utility pays them for their excess power, under a practice called net metering.

Consumers say cutting incentives would make installing solar panels less affordable.

A crowd gathered at a Jacksonville University auditorium Wednesday to talk solar power. Many attendees live in homes that derive at least some of their power from rooftop solar panels.

Right now, they sell the extra power they generate to JEA for 11 cents per kilowatt hour. JEA’s board is considering cutting the reimbursement rate by 30 percent.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s George Cavros says that’s a step backwards for a company that’s traditionally received high marks for customer satisfaction.

“That will definitely impact the economics of customer-owned solar power. It will likely lead to less development of rooftop solar power because it will make the financials just a little less appealing,” Cavros says.

Yet Cavros applauds JEA for other proposals, like expanding solar farms and allowing customers to choose solar as their main power source. But he fears the reduced payment rate could stop people from installing new panels.

But JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce says the utility has to make up for the cost of subsidies by charging non-solar customers more.

“When we look at any type of our rates or any programs that we have, we need to find something that’s fair and equitable to all of our customers and to this community,” she says.

The utility’s board meets to discuss the proposed changes next week and should vote on it at an April 19 meeting.

The battle over net metering isn’t restricted to Jacksonville. A consortium from all sides of the ideological spectrum, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Tea Party, are mounting a campaign to allow rooftop solar users to store and sell power directly to neighbors without going through a utility.

Florida is one of only four states that ban neighbor-to-neighbor power transferring. The consortium, called Floridians for Solar Choice, tried to get a referendum on the state ballot this November, but a disagreement with a paid petition gatherer slowed their momentum and they failed to gather enough signatures by the deadline.

Floridians for Solar Choice aims to get its initiative on the 2018 ballot instead.

Meanwhile, a utility-backed solar initiative cementing current solar regulations in Florida’s Constitution is being considered by the Florida Supreme Court. Backers of that proposal say it codifies a right to produce solar power, while opponents are calling it a bait and switch for voters.

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.