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Untangling GRU’s Solar Circuit Capacity Limits and Net Metering Future

A complex political and community struggle unfolds over the future of GRU’s (Gainesville Regional Utilities) solar energy policy. GRU faces scrutiny over two pivotal solar energy matters, among many other concerns.

Let’s dig deeper into the two lingering solar policy issues impacting current GRU solar energy system owners and those GRU customers considering solar as their alternative power source in the future.

  1. GRU’s two-megawatt (2 MW) circuit capacity limit for solar installations.
  2. The uncertain future of GRU’s Net Metering policy.

These two issues have raised questions about economic fairness and strategic energy planning since the assignment of the GRU Utility Advisory Board by Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. The newly established board, appointed by Governor DeSantis, will hold comprehensive decision-making authority over the GRU municipal utility. This board is unique in its composition, with most of its members residing beyond the city’s boundaries.

This arrangement is unprecedented in Florida’s history, marking the first instance where a governor has taken the initiative to appoint a board to oversee a municipal utility.

The implications are significant, as it introduces a new dynamic in GRU’s management. This shift in the governance structure is expected to influence policies and strategic decisions regarding the utility’s solar policy. Wrong decisions by GRU would dismantle how solar energy continues to bring value to the grid and the GRU community.

1. The 2 Megawatt (MW) Circuit Capacity Conundrum

The decision by Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) to implement a 2 MW cap on solar capacity is quickly becoming a significant point of contention for homeowners and businesses eager to transition to solar energy. GRU devised what some see as an outdated cap limit that has no scientific merit. As circuits reach a 2 MW level of solar power, GRU rejects any further solar projects on that circuit and considers it capped.

A recent Gainesville Sun opinion piece detailed that this policy has notably affected BCS Laboratories, a local Gainesville business. BCS Laboratories, which provides environmental testing services, saw solar energy as a means to reduce operational costs and a step towards a more environmentally responsible business model. 

However, the company’s solar adoption goals met with substantial barriers due to GRU’s 2 MW of solar per circuit cap and, therefore, were denied by GRU. This limitation meant that BCS Laboratories’ solar installation plan exceeded the “GRU allowed” 2 MW capacity. As a result, BCS’s application to install solar panels was rejected by GRU, leaving the company unable to proceed with its planned solar project. This was particularly disheartening for BCS Laboratories, as it stalled their progress toward greater sustainability and electrical cost stability. It also signaled a broader issue of restricted solar access for homes and businesses in all of the GRU territory. 

What is a Circuit, and is it being capped by GRU?

Imagine the electricity system of a utility company like a big tree. The power starts at the power plant (like the tree’s roots) and travels along big branches (high-voltage transmission lines). It then reaches a substation, where the high power gets turned down to a lower level safe for houses and businesses. From there, it travels into smaller branches, which are the circuits in the neighborhood. Each electric utility circuit is like a small branch that delivers electricity to different areas, like homes, schools, and local businesses.

GRU capped each circuit in its network so that when a 2 MW solar threshold on a circuit becomes reached, they (GRU) will reject all further solar installation requests, both residential and commercial, on that circuit—ending any additional solar installations on that particular circuit, now and into the future. Proponents say this practice of capping solar installation is unfair, has a negative impact,  and is without scientific merit.

The impact of this decision by GRU to cap circuits has broad implications. It reflects how such restrictions discourage homeowners and local businesses from pursuing solar energy. Thus destroying the dream of Americans’ freedom to install solar energy systems and lower their monthly utility costs. 

This limitation is more than just a technicality. It symbolizes a barrier to progress. GRU effectively excludes many residents and businesses from participating in the green energy transition by restricting solar capacity. It deprives homes and businesses of solar power’s inherent benefits – like energy cost savings and property value enhancement.

Homeowners and BCS Laboratories’ experience of being denied the right to produce solar energy underscores the need to reevaluate GRU’s solar capacity policies. To align with the growing demand for sustainable energy solutions within the Gainesville community and to ensure the freedom to control one’s electric costs.

2. The Hazy Horizon of Net Metering

Adding further complexity to the solar energy debate in Gainesville is the uncertainty surrounding the future of GRU’s Net Metering program. According to an email from a GRU staffer, the Net Metering program is up for a comprehensive review, with discussions about possible modifications. The meeting is set for March 15, 2024, at the GRU Administrative Building, located at 301 SE 4th Ave., in downtown Gainesville—the specific time and agenda of the meeting were not available at the time of this writing. We will confirm and circulate another communication closer to the meeting date.

The lack of clarity regarding the program’s direction is causing apprehension among existing and prospective solar panel owners. Any significant changes to the Net Metering structure could drastically alter solar investments’ economic viability, rob existing solar owners of financial returns, and deter GRU customers from installing new solar energy systems.

Solar energy system owners are also concerned that GRU will follow a small but growing trend of utility companies across America silently modifying or ending their Net Metering policy behind closed doors and without public input.

Furthermore, the potential decline in solar installations, spurred by these Net Metering uncertainties, will hinder GRU’s ability to meet its future carbon emission reduction targets of providing 100% renewable energy by 2045. 

What Is Net Metering?

Net metering allows solar owners to earn and exchange credits with their electric utility company for the excess energy they send to the grid – usually the access solar energy the system owner does not consume. 

Solar Net Metering is an important policy mechanism in the history of solar energy development, promoting the adoption of solar power by homeowners and businesses dating back to the 1980s. The Energy Policy Act of 2005, a significant piece of U.S. legislation, encouraged states to adopt Net Metering as a policy. Furthermore, Florida established Net Metering guidelines through the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2008

The Broader Implications for GRU and Its Customers

Many see GRU’s current regulatory approach towards solar energy as arbitrary and inconsistent. This stance affects all GRU customers. It inhibits economic growth within the community, detracts from collective environmental goals, and restricts the democratization of energy production—not to mention an infringement of freedom. 

What Can We Do?

  1. GRU customers can engage with their utility provider and local government in response to these challenges. By reaching out to the GRU Utility Advisory Board, Gainesville City Commission, Alachua County officials, and Governor Ron DeSantis, residents can voice their concerns and advocate for a more equitable and forward-thinking solar policy. Below are the contact details for these key stakeholders.
  2. GRU must play a proactive role in fostering the growth of distributed generation and a favorable Net Metering policy. This includes implementing necessary system upgrades to enable more homes and businesses to adopt solar power, thereby enhancing the overall resilience of the grid. 
  3. Governor Ron DeSantis – listen and discover that solar energy is bipartisan, with massive support across party lines. Solar and Net Metering supports more than 40,000 jobs, adds $18.3 billion in economic value, Provides $3.2 billion in household income, and generates $3.3 billion in total tax revenues in Florida!

Make Your Voice Heard

Concerned GRU customers advocate that GRU should adopt the approved guidelines enacted and regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) since 2008. Doing so would remove the extraneous caps and allow compliant solar projects to proceed confidently in interconnection (without prior permission) while maintaining the appropriate Net Metering rate. This is especially important for residential solar systems, which are far too small to present any grid stability challenges for GRU. 

Action is now! Email and demand that the GRU board approve the following as soon as possible:

  • Dropping the pre-approval requirement (Letter of Intent submission) for solar projects pre-construction (as they are the only utility in the State that does that)
  • Dropping the outdated caps on the circuits
  • By taking the above actions, adhere to the current net metering requirements in the state, as mandated by the Public Service Commission.

GRU Utility Advisory Board (assigned by Gov DeSantis):

Craig Carter (Chair) CarterCE@gru.com

James Coats IV (Vice-Chair) CoatsJG@gru.com

Robert Karow. KarowRJ@gru.com

Eric Lawson. LawsonCE@gru.com

Gainesville City Commission:

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 490, Station 19, Gainesville, FL 32627-0490

Physical Address: 200 East University Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32601

Phone: (352) 334-5000

Commissioner’s Group Email: citycomm@cityofgainesville.org

Website: City Commission

Commission Members:

Harvey Ward wardhl@gainesvillefl.gov

Cynthia Chestnut chestnutcm@gainesvillefl.gov

Reina Saco sacore@gainesvillefl.gov

Desmon Duncan-Walker walkerdn@gainesvillefl.gov

Ed Book bookea@gainesvillefl.gov

Casey Willits willitscw@gainesvillefl.gov

Bryan Eastman eastmanbm@gainesvillefl.gov

Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (since GRU also serves them):

Mary Alford malford@alachuacounty.us

Marihelen Wheeler mwheeler@alachuacounty.us

Anna Prizzia aprizzia@alachuacounty.us

Ken Cornell KCornell@alachuacounty.us

Charles “Chuck” Chestnut, IV cschestnut@alachuacounty.us

Governor Ron DeSantis Office:

GovernorRon.DeSantis@eog.myflorida.com

Gainesville Sun

letters@gainesville.com

How to submit a letter to the Gainesville Sun: How to submit a letter or guest column

WCJB TV 20:

tv20news@wcjb.com

Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FLASEIA)

Advocating for and safeguarding the solar energy sector within Florida.

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