What Hawaii Can Learn From the Sunshine State: Postcards From Florida

Florida sunshine postcard

NextEra, a company based out of my home state – Florida – has been making headlines with its plans to acquire Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO). Perhaps you are asking yourself: what would this mean for the future of renewable energy in Hawaii, one of our nation’s leaders on solar power?

Well, no need to wonder. We can look at NextEra’s track record on renewables back home for some answers. Having been in the solar business in Florida for more than a decade, I’ve watched first-hand as the utility company has fought tooth-and-nail against real clean energy progress. While HECO green-lighted 3,600 solar applications last month alone, NextEra-subsidiary Florida Power & Light has approved only 2,500 rooftop solar systems in its entire history – let that sink in. There’s a reason why ‘The Sunshine State’ has so few solar roofs – and it’s not lack of sun.

In Florida, the utility industry hires approximately one lobbyist for every two legislators. And they keep those lobbyists very very busy.  A recent article by The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, documented what it’s like trying to pass pro-solar legislation in Tallahassee. It’s worth a read – but lets say it’s not easy being green in the Sunshine State. And that’s just for the legislature — utilities have many more people working at the state’s Public Service Commission, focused on shaping rules and regulation.

Even on a local level, FPL digs in pretty aggressively. Broward County, one of Florida’s largest – wanted to promote more solar. They put together a team and formed “Go Solar Florida,” with the goal of establishing a resolution and action plan for the local support of solar. Once they were ready to present their action play the team and County Administrator took heavy fire from FPL at the Broward County Commission meeting when they tried to pass it.  One commissioner even accounted looking at the visitors log and noted that Florida Power and Light met with all of the commissioners to voice their concerns over the “go solar” resolution. For three months – up until the final day of the vote – the team was pressured to make changes to their plan. All of this over a simple resolution trying to help homeowners go solar – locally.  It’s really amazing. You can watch the Commission video below – it’s pretty heated – and makes me think will this behavior carry over to Hawaii?

All of that negative effort has worked. The fact is, Florida has long been a renewable energy underperformer.  The state has no renewable energy standard. The state’s incentive program for rooftop solar, poorly run from the get-go, was recently canceled. Popular and effective financing programs – like the ones they have in Hawaii and over 45 other states – for rooftop solar are explicitly disallowed. All of this in the name of enforcing the utilities’ monopoly.  And the results speak for themselves: the state lags well behind in renewable development, with just 0.06 percent of FPL’s energy mix coming from solar (leading U.S. utilities are on track to meet 10 percent of their power needs with solar). Florida ranks 29th in the country for overall renewable development, most of which is from landfill gas and wood-burning.

All this has Hawaii state lawmakers concerned – and rightly so. The Hawaii House passed legislation to take a hard look at NextEra’s actions in Florida to judge whether its HECO acquisition is really in the public interest. You can (and should!) read the resolution here. We agree that as residents and policymakers in Hawaii consider NextEra’s bid to buy HECO, it’s important to hold NextEra accountable for its renewable energy track record in Florida.

Which is why we are launching ‘Postcards from Florida,’ a campaign designed to help keep Hawaii’s energy consumers apprised of NextEra’s positions on solar in its home state.  If the utility really wants to demonstrate good renewable intentions for HECO, it has the perfect opportunity right now, in Florida.

If you live in Hawaii, add your voice here.

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