Irma Victims Tried to Flip on Solar Panels, But Got Hit With Sick Law

After Hurricane Irma, many residents in Florida were left without power for several days, resulting in suffering and death.

According to Miami New Times, many are targeting Florida Power & Light (FPL) for failing its residents. Residents claim that policies in place because of the FPL make it illegal for them to power their own homes with solar panels during power outages, and money meant to improve the electrical grid went to establishing the company as a monopoly instead.

Elise McKenna, a resident of West Palm Beach, said her area lost power despite avoiding the storm and the supposed preparations by the FPL for such events. “I am one of the many that has now been without power for more than two days as a result of Hurricane Irma. My confusion came when so many of us lost power during the early hours of the storm that basically avoided us. We’ve been told time and time again that rate increases were to help prepare us for future storms.”

Supposedly the FPL made significant improvements to the power grid after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. That hurricane left 75 percent of those on the electrical grid without power, with many having to wait two weeks before it came back. The company claimed to have spent $2 billion to make improvements.

This time, however, 90 percent were without power, many in areas only minimally affected by storms.

Many residents believe that the FPL has been more focused on lobbying efforts to improve its monopoly rather than properly prepare for upcoming storms and hurricanes. Residents claim that NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, has been heavily leaning on state and local politicians through sizable donations to pass favorable legislation to improve business.

One example is a statewide mandate that all solar panels must be connected to the local electric grid. These panels must then be shut off when the power grid fails, preventing residents from using the panels to provide much-needed electricity in times of crisis.

Granted, this is partly due to a safety concern, as stated by the company, “Renewable generator systems [such as solar panels] connected to the grid without batteries are not a standby power source during an FPL outage. The system must shut down when FPL’s grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL’s grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”

What is concerning is the state rules that facilitate this restriction. When solar panels are installed and connected to the house and the grid, they have a switch built in that allows FPL to cut off the solar panels’ connection to the house and the grid, but interestingly, can still leave the grid connected to the house. This means that if FPL wanted to they could prevent the solar panels from connecting with the house and force residents to rely solely on the grid at any given time. They’re also permitted to put a padlock on the switch to prevent residents from accessing it.

In addition to the restrictions on solar panel users, the company also has a history of enforcing pro-climate change measures that charged users $811 million in rate hikes last year alone. FPL has also adamantly refused to bury power lines, which would prevent these lines from being damaged during storms.

Though the company has worked endlessly to return power to Florida residents, its business practices are questionable at best. Considering the frequency of power outages during storms and hurricanes, it would make more sense to cut off a house’s connection to the grid during repairs and allow residents to use their own solar panels to keep the power on until the workers can make it to their area.

It seems like the FPL needs to undergo some review to determine the level of inefficiency and corruption that may reside within. Otherwise, Florida residents may experience a worse catastrophe the next time tragedy strikes.