Ever since Ron DeSantis ran for governor of Florida in 2018, he has tried to position himself as a conservative environmentalist, claiming that his conservative policies do not put him at odds with the need to protect Florida’s environment. But in the 2018 primary race, he made comments that seemed to position himself at arm’s length from solar energy. He said, “Let the market decide if solar can do well. I’m not opposed to it, but I’m not going to give special subsidies for solar over this or over that…”
So it may come as a surprise to some observers that four years later, Governor DeSantis’s record on solar energy has actually allowed it to flourish. His promise not to play favorites may actually explain how his free market policies have given solar energy the chance to succeed as a reliable, efficient, and affordable option in Florida. Here are some examples.
Stopping Utility Monopoly Interference
Perhaps the most famous episode happened during the 2022 legislative session. That year, the legislature passed a bill pushed by Florida Power & Light, Florida’s largest electric utility monopoly, that would have tilted the scales away from rooftop solar power and in favor of the utilities. The bill, H.B. 741, was written to take a sledgehammer to Florida’s “net metering” rules— the rules that allow homeowners with rooftop solar panels to sell any excess energy they generate back to the utility at a fair retail price. Net metering rules have been used around the country to incentivize homeowners to install solar panels, which can have a high up-front cost, with the promise that the solar panels will eventually pay for themselves, and even provide a small profit in the future. Doing away with that rule would have meant that homeowners would have little incentive to install solar panels on their homes in the future.
In a move that surprised even some of his own allies, Governor DeSantis vetoed the bill, saying he did not want to “contribute to the financial crunch that our citizens are experiencing.” This action served as a lifeline for numerous Floridians relying on the income generated from their personal solar installations. His decision has undeniably protected the solar energy free market, empowering homeowners and bolstering the burgeoning solar industry in Florida.
Allowing Floating Solar to Move Forward
Another piece of legislation that removed roadblocks for solar that received DeSantis’ seal of approval in 2022 promoted the utilization of floating solar facilities. For those unfamiliar, floating solar, or “floatovoltaics,” are solar panels mounted on structures that float on bodies of water. The bill, H.B. 1411, found that floating solar installations were a beneficial use of wastewater treatment ponds, abandoned lime rock mines, stormwater treatment ponds, reclaimed water ponds, and other water storage reservoirs. The bill directed local governments to make floating solar facilities a permitted use in comprehensive plans.
Cutting Red Tape for Schools To Retrofit Their Buildings with Solar
In 2023, DeSantis continued his support for solar energy by reducing bureaucratic hurdles for public schools wishing to install solar panels, especially those used as emergency storm shelters. This action not only represents a step towards energy independence for these institutions, but it also brings added resilience in times of crisis. While this concept was originally pushed by a bill in the Florida Senate and House, this language was eventually folded into the comprehensive budget measure which the governor signed on June 15.
In an era of constant political warfare, it is important to understand that there are some issues that are not viewed through a hyper-partisan lens. Solar power has consistently been an extremely popular concept for Floridians of all political stripes, as has been preserving Florida’s beaches from oil spills that happen from disasters in offshore oil and gas drilling. In this area, Governor DeSantis has been true to his word to “Let the market decide.” And in “The Sunshine State,” solar has proven to be extremely popular because of its reliability and affordability.