Up to 40 percent of Floridians lost power after the hurricane. And although some of them had solar panels on their roofs, not all were able to use that solar power. Under Florida Power and Light (FPL)’s net metering guidelines, “Renewable generator systems 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.”
Yes, including me. I even have solar panels but can't get juice from them during a blackout because of FPL's rules. https://t.co/w6jX32FqYH
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) September 12, 2017
Florida-based company Solar Trek owner Patrick Altier told Snopes.com residents with solar panels actually can use solar power if the grid fails – but only if “they purchase additional equipment to prevent volts of electricity from traveling through power lines and harming unsuspecting neighbors or repair crews.”
Altier explained a grid-type solar system shuts off when the grid does to avoid dangerous back feed. But a battery-interactive solar system offers an alternative: “When the grid goes down, a transfer switch switches me off the grid and into the battery system, so there’s no way I could back-feed and hurt a utility linesman.”
Customers with a battery system like a Tesla Powerwall can use solar panels during a grid failure, according to Snopes.com.
Miami New Times said people have criticized FPL for spending money on lobbying rather than on hurricane-proofing grids. The Energy and Policy Institute found a FPL lobbyist drafting anti-solar laws for Republican state representative Ray Rodrigues this April. FPL contributed $15,000 to Rodrigues’ campaign. According to the Miami New Times, the Sunshine State trails behind other states in solar adoption due to power company influence.
UPDATE: Inhabitat’s article originally said state code requires people to connect their homes to the local electric grid, and that it would be illegal for people to use solar power during the grid failures that happened in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per a Snopes.com fact check, “Floridians are not, in fact, mandated by law to connect solar panels to the power grid.” They can use solar power if they have a battery system.
This article was updated September 26 at 12:30 PM.