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Tired of paying electric co.? Maybe it should pay you

MANATEE — You may be accustomed to sending checks each month to the electric company, but imagine how fun it would be if the process were reversed and the company had to pay you.

That’s what might happen if a bill sponsored by a local legislator is passed by the Florida Legislature.

Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, has filed a bill that would create the first statewide system in the United States providing a way for those who generate energy via alternative means, such as solar photovoltaic cells, to sell any excess to utility companies.

He filed H.B. 1317 in an effort to help improve the market for renewable energy, he said Thursday.

Currently, the economics of renewable energy are “very difficult” because there are no financial incentives to spur it on the open market, said Fitzgerald, a New College associate professor whose academic specialty is public policy and American political institutions.

“People who could produce a lot of alternative energy cannot sell the excess energy over the grid. They may be supplying or could potentially supply energy to the grid, but they can’t recapture the cost of their alternative energy,” Fitzgerald said.

The bill would create a guaranteed contract over 20 years that would pay or reimburse a small subsidy for energy produced by alternative means. Electricity produced that way would be sent back through the state’s grid system for others to use, according to Fitzgerald.

The subsidy would be passed back to consumers, “but at a very, very low rate,” he said.

The bill would not have any fiscal impact on the state, require no tax money, and could transform the energy market while addressing climate change, creating jobs and reducing the state’s dependence on foreign oil, he said.

How would it work?

Perhaps you’re a commercial developer building a mall. Currently, if you wanted to install solar photovoltaic cells on the roof, the cost would exceed the amount saved on the electric bill, Fitzgerald said.

But if Fitzgerald’s bill became law, any excess energy could be sold back to the utility company, recouping enough money to make the installation financially feasible.

“You will have two (electric) meters instead of one on the building,” said Fitzgerald. “One will run forward when you are consuming, the other will run forward when you are producing it. You’ll get a check back from the utility company for whatever the pay period would be.”

“We would be the first state in the U.S. to do it statewide were this to pass,” Fitzgerald said, adding that some municipalities, such as Gainesville, have already adopted a “feed-in tariff,” which pays a premium price for electricity from the sun. Germany pioneered such a system and has enjoyed a national boom in solar generation.

The bill does not restrict what might create the electricity — it could be a solar cell, a wind turbine, or even “recaptured” methane, perhaps generated from farm animal waste, Fitzgerald said.

It may sound great to consumers, but how do electric company officials view it?

“Bills are being filed right now, and we’ll review every bill that has an impact on our industry and our customers,” said Mayco Villafana, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light, which has already invested heavily in solar power and has proposed a new solar generating facility at an existing plant in Parrish.

“My job is to convince them we’re not there to hurt them,” said Fitzgerald, of utility company officials. “You might say we’re introducing competition, but the truth is, energy is a completely regulated market, it’s always considered a natural monopoly.”

“The prices are set by a public entity, there’s no reason really to assume this increased supply should hurt their bottom line,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re happy to work with them to make it a workable thing.”

Sara Kennedy, Bradenton Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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