TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's public schools would be allowed to contract with third-party vendors for the installation of solar panels on their premises under legislation that could dramatically reduce each school's utility expenses.

What You Need To Know

  • SB198 would allow Florida schools to contract with third-party vendors to install solar panels

  • Legislators argue that allowing schools to operate net metering programs could drastically reduce utility expenses

  • Florida homeowners have been allowed to participate in net metering for more than a decade

The measure, SB 198, has been filed by Sen. Lori Berman (D-Lantana) ahead of the 2021 legislative session. A similar bill was filed for consideration during the 2020 session but failed to advance.

If the legislation were to become law, school districts could enter into agreements with vendors to install and operate solar panels, buying the power the panels generate for use both at the school where the panels are installed, as well as up to 20 nearby schools.

In effect, school districts would be empowered to operate their own net metering programs. For more than a decade, Florida homeowners have been permitted participate in net metering, sending unused power generated by their solar systems to utility companies in exchange for credits on their monthly bills.

Clean energy advocates are hailing the legislation as particularly timely given a projected $2.7 billion budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative leaders have suggested all options — including cutting public school funding — are on the table.

"It's a no-brainer for schools to put solar on their roofs," said Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "By having third-party providers be able to do that, the economics of it are going to be even better, so at a time when our budgets are going to be tighter, let the schools save money and let's create local jobs and let's protect our public health."

Some utility companies, however, have expressed concern about the financial implications of net metering. Not only are they losing revenue from customers with solar installations; the equipment required to connect those installations to the power grid is expensive, executives say.

"Customers who don't have rooftop solar are paying more than their fair share of the fixed costs required to provide service to customers, including generation, transmission and distribution," said Terry Deason of Florida Power and Light told regulators during a September 17 Public Service Commission workshop.

While commissioners have stopped short of embracing a rollback of the net metering program, some utility industry advocates are optimistic about the possible authorization of net metering surcharges for solar customers. It's unclear if such a scheme would affect public schools if the legislation were to be enacted.

"Where solar is really just taking off, you don't want to put punitive fees and you don't want to really try to fix something that's not broken," Glickman said.

The 2-month legislative session will begin in March.