Despite Widespread Praise, Some Green Energy Advocates Still Wary Of New JEA Solar Policy

Oct 20, 2017
Originally published on October 19, 2017 5:46 pm

JEA’s sweeping expansion of solar power in Northeast Florida has been mostly praised as a big step into the future and criticism from renewable energy advocates has been more subdued than previous solar proposals.

But some are still concerned about the rollback of a special subsidy paid to rooftop solar users.

The governing board for the country’s eight-largest community-owned utility approved five different proposals Tuesday, including one that pays customers less for selling back their excess power to the grid.

Traditionally, the utility has used the process of net metering to pay solar users for their extra power generation at a rate of just over 10 cents per kilowatt hour. In lieu of the more generous payment, JEA will begin offering a 30 percent rebate on battery storage systems up to $2,000 beginning in April and pay customers just more than three cents a kilowatt hour.

Green Building Council Florida’s director Sarah Boren said Thursday on WJCT’s First Coast Connect she’s mostly supportive of the utility’s new policies, but questions the speed with which JEA is rolling back the net metering rate.

“The data I’m going to look at is the adoption rate. JEA should be commended for all of these policies they’ve introduced. There’s almost a product for every sector in our area to enter into solar somehow. I’m just hoping the market is ready for the decline in net metering and the battery storage incentive program,” she said.

Boren said the fear of reducing the net metering rate is twofold: First, the market for battery storage systems is underdeveloped on the First Coast and the price of installing such a system is potentially much higher than the average cost JEA used in its calculations. Secondly, pulling the rate down to three cents a kilowatt hour could further drive otherwise interested customers away from installing rooftop solar panels.

In a Florida Times-Union guest column published before JEA’s Tuesday vote, Boren wrote the utility should consider “delaying the abrupt and drastic cut of the net metering incentive and slowly reduce the credit over time.”

Boren wrote that doing so would give “the local market time to adjust and for battery cost to come down so both programs complement each other.”

JEA had originally slated the net metering change to begin in January, but moved it back to April during Tuesday’s meeting. Boren still thinks the net metering rate cut is happening too quickly.

New solar customers who purchase their panels before the April 2018 date will be grandfathered in at their current net metering rate for the next two decades. JEA officials say the net metering rate cut follows current market trends showing a sharp drop in the cost of solar.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk

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