Florida Power and Light's grid did not fare well under Hurricane Irma, despite the company's assurances that it had spent billions hardening its systems after 90% of its customers lost power to 2005's Hurricane Wilma.
But one thing has changed since 2005: solar. Many of the FPL customers who are living through dangerous heat without power now have solar panels on their roofs that could keep them going while FPL repairs its infrastructure. Except doing so is illegal, thanks to FPL's lobbyists, who literally ghost-wrote much of Florida's dreadful solar rules.
Under these rules, Floridians with solar panels required to shut them down when the power goes out "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." But the same rules mandate that these homes "include a switch that cleanly disconnects their panels from FPL's system while keeping the rest of a home's power lines connected," but Floridians are prohibited from flipping this switch and turning their power on (FPL is allowed to disconnect and padlock the switch at its discretion).
FPL's lobbyists had to give a few concessions to get these incredibly favorable rules (and more, including special taxes that compensate the company when private individuals install more than 10kW of panels). However, they're working hard on killing these.
The law winds up forcing residents to remain reliant on the state's private power companies. For now, solar-panel owners can still get something out of the law, in that the "net-metering" provision lets you sell excess power back to the company. The provision also lets power companies charge a $400 or $1,000 application fee for consumers who want to install systems more powerful than 10 kilowatts.
But if power companies had their way, the net-metering law would vanish tomorrow. Both FPL and its trade association, the Edison Electric Institute, have spent millions trying to kill that net-metering law and instead win the right to charge you for installing your own solar-panel system. In 2016, FPL spent more than $8 million on Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that industry insiders admitted was written to trick customers into giving up their rights to solar power. The law's language would have paved the way for Florida to kill net-metering rules.
This past April, the Energy and Policy Institute caught an FPL lobbyist straight-up drafting anti-solar laws for Fort Myers state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, who also took a $15,000 campaign contribution from FPL this year.
Thanks to power-company influence, one of America's sunniest states lags far behind the rest of the nation when it comes to solar adoption.
FPL has also resisted some seemingly foolproof solutions to avoid storm outages, such as burying more lines. In a city that names its sports teams for hurricanes, a huge portion of FPL's power lines still sit above-ground and get blown apart even in tropical storm conditions.
Why Didn't FPL Do More to Prepare for Irma?
[Jerry Iannelli/Miami New Times]
(Image: Eric Gaba, CC-BY-SA)