Thomas Jefferson said “the sheep are happier left to themselves, than under the care of the wolves.” As the Jacksonville Electric Authority eyes proposed changes to regulations for roof-top solar, this public utility must decide what sort of entity it is: will it build community, which is its motto, or destroy it. At the recent board meeting held on the opulent 18th floor of the JEA tower, the board listened patiently to members of the Jacksonville business community and concerned citizens . Let’s hope they actually heard.
What is the plan?
In broad terms, JEA would like to reduce the buyback rate for grid-tied solar by 36%, which will do great harm to the burgeoning industry and the community itself. Essentially, they would like to charge homeowners one fee for the power they use, but reduce the credit given for the electricity the resident creates with a solar array. This makes solar less economically attractive for business owners and residential customers alike.
Why would utilities do this?
The unfounded argument that utilities use to justify proposals like this is that consumers without solar subsidize those who do. This has been refuted over and over again all over the country. Policies like this are incredibly short –sighted. JEA has an enormous solar farm, and is committed to adding to this over the course of this year. That’s a good thing, something to be applauded. What is unacceptable is the underlying idea that the utility would like to generate its own solar power, but crush the ability of the average homeowner to do the same thing. JEA seems to believe that the two are somehow mutually exclusive, when the reality is that more generation capacity is a good thing.
If these proposed changes go into effect, JEA will have quietly committed the hostile takeover of solar in its service area. Public-owned utilities aren’t supposed to behave this way. In Nevada, something similar is occurring now, where a utility owned by Berkshire Hathaway destroyed the economics of roof-top solar overnight with the stroke of a pen. In Jacksonville, solar accounts for a tiny fraction of the total electricity generated. While it is true that the utility is losing some revenue stream, it is also benefiting from the increased production of energy. There is no justification for a utility owned by the people to follow Sun Tzu and act like there is a war, because the people will wind up losing.
Real people with real jobs will be put out of work by these proposed changes. The economic ripples will wash over families and communities. Can a company with the motto “building community,” move forward with a plan which will actively destroy lives and smash an entire sector of that very community?
Renewable energy is the future, and Jacksonville would like to define itself as a forward-thinking, vibrant city of tomorrow, rather than the slightly smelly backwater the name conjured in years past, where folks are set in their ways and change is seen as a threat. We are better than that, on our way to becoming vibrant, diverse, and truly metropolitan.
Our city needs to attract more businesses, more intellect, and the energy of youth. One of the most impactful speakers at the Board of Directors meeting was a self-proclaimed millennial. He pointed out that the eyes of the country are upon us. This proposal is a step backwards in every way for this great city, for these changes will stifle growth and stain the community with small-mindedness and stagnation.
The people overwhelmingly support solar in Jacksonville and around the country. President Bush set up the federal tax credit in 2008 to spur the growth of the industry, and the growth of solar has exceed all expectations. Our citizens want solar.
This proposal from JEA runs counter to the will of the people it is chartered to serve. So call your congressman, write the Mayor’s office, bug your city councilman, and let them know that you think these changes are unfair. Beat back the wolf.