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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 24, 201810:39 AM EST

JEA sued over how it compensates customers with solar panels

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Groups say utility is “short-changing customers who want to use rooftop solar energy.”
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

Two groups are suing JEA over the utility’s Distributed Energy Policy that replaced a nearly decade-old net metering program in April.

Community Power Network Corp., also known as Solar United Neighbors, and the League of Women Voters of Florida Inc. filed the legal challenge Thursday in the 4th Judicial Circuit claiming the new JEA policy violates state law, “by short-changing customers who want to use rooftop solar energy.”

According to the eight-page complaint, the groups are seeking “a declaration from the Court that JEA’s Energy Policy violates Florida law and an injunction directing JEA to provide a net metering program.”

JEA Spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said the utility does not comment on pending litigation.

In October, the JEA board of directors approved the policy to replace its net metering program, which the groups claim is in violation of state law.

The new Distributed Energy Policy took effect April 1.

A 2008 state law requires Florida utility companies to establish net metering policies to give customers who install solar panels the ability to sell energy back to the grid and to pay only for the net difference of energy they receive back from it.

The aim was to encourage rooftop solar panel adoption.

JEA began net metering in 2009, allowing customers to recoup the retail rate of about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour of excess energy they produce.

Customers with rooftop solar panels could send excess energy to the JEA grid when the panels produced more energy than the customer could consume, for example, during the day. At night, customers could draw back energy from the grid to make up the difference when the sun isn’t powering the panels.

Under net metering, customers only paid for the net difference of that energy consumption.

Under the new Distributed Energy Policy, instead of being credited at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for excess energy, solar panel owners are credited at the company’s fuel rate, or about 3.25 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The policy also shortens the metering to every 15 minutes instead of monthly, making it more likely power will be compensated at the lower rate.

The net metering policy is no longer offered.

Existing customers who participated before March 31 are grandfathered into the old program for 20 years.

Community Power Network Corp. claims JEA’s new policy reduced the potential financial incentive to set up a rooftop solar cooperative it planned to install in Jacksonville last year.

“As a result, SUN (Solar United Neighbors) lost profits that it would have otherwise received from the installation of rooftop solar for the cooperative,” the complaint states.

The group describes itself as a nonprofit organization dedicated to representing the needs and interests of solar owners and clean energy supporters by helping them “go solar.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida Inc. is a nonpartisan political organization established in 1939, “encouraging informed and active participation of citizens in government.”

It claims the organization and its members are being adversely affected and prevented from executing “one of its primary campaigns to expand rooftop solar.”

“LWVFL’s Jacksonville members who want to install rooftop solar are now forced into either not installing solar, or not receiving fair compensation for the solar energy they produce and send to the grid, in violation of state law net metering requirements,” the group states through the complaints.

According to the Duval County Clerk of Courts, both groups occupy space at 111 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Tallahassee.

Attorneys Bonnie Malloy and Bradley Marshall with the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice are representing the groups.

The case is assigned to Judge Virginia Norton.

Through a joint news release, Solar United Neighbors of Florida Program Director Angela DeMonbreum called the new policy “truly backwards.”

“Jacksonville homeowners want to go solar,” she said. “But without fair compensation for the electricity we generate, few of us can do so.”

Through the same release, League of Women Voters of Florida President Pam Goodman said the group has helped launch 28 cooperatives around the state.

She said it was “unfair for our Jacksonville citizens that the recent changes in net metering policy by JEA puts solar out of reach for them.”

According the Clerk of Courts, JEA was issued a summons April 19.

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