It may have ravaged much of the Caribbean, but Hurricane Irma weakened mercifully quickly as it passed over Florida. That’s not to say that it didn’t cause significant infrastructural damage, of course, and soon after the storm had passed, 40 percent of Florida lacked electricity, something that ended up killing several people who relied on it.
At the time of writing, 1.5 million Floridians are still without power, and the issue of solar power has come up. This is the Sunshine State we’re talking about – so why is it so difficult to get a solar panel for your house there?
As pointed out by the Miami New Times, Florida Power and Light (FPL) – a major supplier of electricity to the state – has invested heavily in lobbying state lawmakers to disallow residents from powering their own homes with rooftop solar power panels. In fact, thanks to the current laws, it is essentially illegal to do so; you have to connect any solar panels to your local electric grid, provided by a state utility. Seriously. We aren't kidding. You cannot get off-grid solar panels from a third party.
This is nothing short of draconian. Roof-mounted solar panels are an increasing cheap source of renewable energy. In fact, if they became widespread, they would save $3.5 trillion and reduce 24.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. They also happen to be an excellent source of self-sustaining electricity if the main electrical grid burns out – say, during a hurricane.
Homes that power themselves, even to a small degree, aren’t much good to companies like FPL. They’ve been cut out of the loop, which means they make less money from their consumers. They’d never openly admit this though, and instead, they’ve conjured up a rather curious explanation.
“Operating your renewable system without the bi-directional meter can result in an inaccurate meter reading causing your bill to increase,” they write, which in effect means you’ll be charged more for an apparent glitch they can’t fix because you happen to be proactive.
They also suggest that if you live in a FPL-powered home, your solar panels must also be connected through the same electrical wiring, and “the [renewable] system must shut down when FPL's grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL's grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”
Essentially, the company is saying that your relatively low-power solar panels may electrocute workers probing the grid during a routine or inadvertent shut down. Although backfeed is indeed a hazard, thanks to modern safety measures this type of incident should be highly unlikely. Really, the problem here is that the panels have to be connected to the grid. If residents were allowed to connect them off-grid to their own battery or equipment, this wouldn't be a problem at all.
It’s policies like this that leave Florida, a clear option when it comes to the proliferation of solar power, lagging behind other states like California or New York. Short-sighted profits win, time and time again – even when a hurricane threatens the lives of those that dare to disagree.