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Podcast Transcript: Defending the Future of Solar with Ben Millar and Beth Matuga of FLASEIA

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Dave Anderson: I'd like to welcome everyone out to the Solar Podcast. I'm Dave Anderson, the host of the Solar Podcast, and I'm just thrilled to have with us today, Ben Millar and Beth Matuga. I'm going to let them give a little bit of an introduction to themselves. I will maybe just tee up that we're going to be talking a lot about the Florida solar market, but I think it actually has a lot to do with, and we can extend some of the things that are happening in Florida across the country, because for whatever reason, solar becomes a politicized thing in different areas and it really affects homeowners. It affects small businesses. It affects each of us as individuals because all of us are users of energy.

Dave Anderson: I think talking about this is going to be something that's really fascinating and really interesting for both homeowners as well, as really fascinating for people that are in the solar industry, people that are just following the solar industry from the peripheries, whether you feel like solar is a great technology, a terrible technology, energy's something that affects us all. We're going to try to dive into those things and we're going to use Florida as an analog to better understand what's actually happening across the country. Maybe without further ado, we can have Beth, if you wouldn't mind giving a little introduction to yourself and I understand you're fairly new to solar so you can talk about how you stepped in or tiptoed into solar for the first time.

Beth Matuga: Yes. Thank you, Dave. Thank you for having me and I am Beth Matuga. I am the campaign manager for FlaSEIA. During the legislative session earlier this year, FlaSEIA embarked on a very aggressive campaign concerning the net metering proposed legislation that as we know, I don't want to spoil anything, was eventually successful in so much as governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the net metering bill and I have been working in Florida politics and government for 20 some odd years. This is my first foray into the solar market in the solar industry. I really had no particular knowledge or special insight into solar prior to coming to help out FlaSEIA at the beginning of the year and have really been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm and the dedication of the folks, not only at FlaSEIA, but the larger solar aligned, solar organizations and proponents. I appreciate you having me on and I think that there's some really interesting takeaways from what's gone on in Florida over the last several months and hopefully we can get similar, good results all over the country.

Dave Anderson: Thanks for that. Ben, also, I should just mention that both Beth and Ben have a connection with FlaSEIA and Ben, as part of your introduction, if you wouldn't mind just giving our listeners an overview of who FlaSEIA is as well. I think that might be useful.

Ben Millar: FlaSEIA stands for the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, which is a mouthful to say so we just say we just say FlaSEIA. As an organization, the organization's actually quite large or quite old. It started in 1977. It's interesting. Florida's sole industry was a cottage industry for quite a while until maybe seven years ago that it really started to blossom and really took off maybe five years ago. Now has turned into, I would say, somewhat of a powerhouse and an industry that's continuing to grow. I believe we have the second or third largest solar industry and jobs in the country as a state. FlaSEIA represents a lot of the largest solar companies and that's both contractors, vendors, distributors, manufacturers, the whole gamut.

Dave Anderson: Great. A little bit more about yourself, Ben. I know that you're a business owner aside from being a member of the board at FlaSEIA.

Ben Millar: Absolutely. I own Sun Harvest Energy along with my brother who owns part of it as well. We actually employ another brother. We started our company back in September, but I've been in the industry for, I don't know, about 10 years now. Even before that, I was in energy efficiency and also in home building. I've been in the building construction, energy efficiency, and green building, sustainable building industry for a good 20 years now, which would include solar?

Dave Anderson: I think also maybe worth mentioning as well to say that you're in the trenches or at least the proverbial trenches, I think is a little bit of an understatement. I know that you actually stepped off of a project literally off of a roof to join the call with us today. We're particularly grateful and you're welcome as well. I hope that you're able to cool off in the car instead of being in the Florida sun, but being on a roof in Florida, let alone anywhere installing solar can be really a pretty, from a heat perspective, intense job to say the least.

Ben Millar: I'll give you a little bit of a secret. It is still hot in the car and because of the audio performance, I am turning the air conditioning off while I'm speaking, and then will mute myself and turn on the air conditioning while we are... Just a quick secret there.

Dave Anderson: Because I know what the temperatures in Florida, if I hear a little bit of a fan noise, I think both I, as well as the listeners can be a little forgiving of that. But thanks for accommodating the audio there as well. Perfect. I think, Ben, you're going to have some really fantastic perspective for all of the listeners, what it really means to be a business owner in a highly politicized environment where really, and legitimately, I don't think I'm being, or speaking with hyperbole when I say that many people's jobs were really on the line in Florida, as it relates to this bill that was proposed. Beth, if you wouldn't mind, I'd love if you could give us an overview of what that proposed bill was and what precisely FlaSEIA was trying to do as it relates to the bill. I guess it really goes into and speaks really to the heart of what you were ultimately contracted to do for FlaSEIA.

Beth Matuga: Sure. Ben, I just want to thank you for being on, because Ben, we're going to rely on you for the more nuanced data and policy issues with regard to solar. I was hired to help out organizing essentially a legislative campaign or effort surrounding two bills that were filed. One in the state house and one in the state Senate concerning net metering, which is the process by which the power that is generated from a residential solar installation is sent back into the grid. The scenario was such that the large for profit investor owned utilities or IOUs as we call them in Florida were proponents of these two bills and worked very closely with the sponsors of the bills in order to craft language that was pretty helpful to them. The net metering changes that would've resulted would've been devastating to the solar installer and broader solar community in Florida.

Beth Matuga: We'll let Ben talk a little bit about the exact nuances of the content of the bill, but that was the scenario. It was a very dire situation for the solar industry in Florida and the effort to combat these two bills actually began in the fall of 2021. The efforts were multi-pronged. It's important also to mention, as Ben said, that FlaSEIA has been around since the seventies, but has never had to activate itself or its members or its allied partners in the way that it was compelled to this past several months and so great credit to the leadership of FlaSEIA for recognizing this impending issue and the ramifications that it could potentially have for everyone in the industry and activating their networks and their installers in order to rally the troops and prepare to fight this net metering battle.

Beth Matuga: Back in the fall of 2021, when it became clear that this was going to be an issue that came up during legislative session, FlaSEIA embarked on an aggressive strategy to hire a lobbyist, first and foremost, but in order to hire a lobbyist, you have to raise some money. The leadership of the organization undertook its largest and most successful fundraising campaign from its own members and from partner organizations, both within the State of Florida and around the country and secured a great deal of national grant funding and also opened a political committee, which is an entity in Florida that can accept contributions and then distribute campaign contributions and political contributions to other political entities in the state. That was an effort to demonstrate to the folks in Tallahassee and the broader political world that the solar installers and the industry was real and was robust and able to respond to this threat and has skin in the game and is going to be around for a while.

Beth Matuga: Established that political committee, raised a significant amount of money into it, and then spent several months meeting with key legislators, supporting certain campaigns and certain political entities in order to build relationships with those folks, knowing that eventually we would have to work with them very closely in order to fight the net metering battle and defeat these bills. That effort not only included the hiring of a lobbyist, but the hiring of me, and it grew into a partnership with more than 15 state and national organizations of all stripes and flavors. It grew into television, radio, mass communications, digital advertising, word of mouth, letter writing campaigns, op-eds, contacting each and every legislator, and finally culminating in the legislative session when the bills were heard.

Dave Anderson: You did a fantastic job of just setting the arena or setting up the... And understanding for the listeners about how politicized these types of things really become. You have an investor owned utility that goes and gets a state legislator to champion a bill that would substantively change the way that a homeowner can benefit by solar. And a homeowner... There's really only a few things that generally matter to the homeowner when considering renew or solar as an energy source for their home. It's the cost of putting solar on your home and then the economic benefit that you can receive for the surplus amount of power that your home, or excuse me, the solar panels produced that's not used by the home.

Dave Anderson: You have to be able to do something with that electricity, whether it's stored in the home and then used later, or whether it's stored on the grid and used by your neighbors. It might be useful to back up just a little bit and understand the existing net energy metering program that exists. Ben, I don't know if you wanted to try to explain for us what the economic benefit is presently for a homeowner in Florida, what net energy metering exists today? Then we can transition into talking about how the bill would've changed the existing net energy metering program.

Ben Millar: Absolutely. I like to not say that net metering is a benefit. In a way it's just fair trade of energy, fair trade of credits. The benefit comes from the sun. The tool that enables you to get the full reward for harvesting the saunas, obviously, my company likes to say is net meeting. It's really just an even exchange of, here's a kilowatt hour of energy, later on when I need a kilowatt hour of energy. You take it from my tab, which I've got credits on. This net metering bill, would've been pretty devastating because homeowner's investments would've been undervalued. The energy that they would've provided to the grid would've been undervalued.

Ben Millar: They had been shortchanged for any of the energy that they sent to the grid, which by the way, the utilities would've taken that energy, sent it all of 20 feet to their neighbors, it would've stayed pretty local and sold that energy at full price. Net metering essentially gives you full credit for energy you send on to the grid, it's just an even exchange, one credit for one credit. Nobody benefits greatly from that. Nobody's hurt greatly from that. It's just an even exchange. When you get rid of that, what happens is you actually end up subsidizing utility by huge amounts, and it makes your investment as a homeowner in solar, it makes it a poor investment once you get rid of net metering. That was the initial bill that was proposed is basically getting completely rid of net metering and devaluing our homeowners investment. Therefore, our homeowners would be less likely to decide to move forward with the bill.

Dave Anderson: I think, just to try to be as fair as we can, understanding that, obviously this is the Solar Podcast. We're huge proponents of and advocates for solar across the country, renewable energy generally, but certainly specifically solar, but just to try to be objective for our listeners as well, those that are opponents of net energy metering would say that solar customers are benefiting from the grid without subsidizing or without paying their fair share of being connected to the grid. In other words, they get to benefit from the grid without having to incur any of the cost and by so doing, the other whatever, if it's 95% of homeowners, depending on the market penetration in any given area, essentially the 95% that don't have solar end up subsidizing the cost of the infrastructure of the grid for the benefit of everyone, but solar customers aren't paying their fair share.

Dave Anderson: That would be the argument that opponents of net energy metering would make. The truth of it is that at some point, every market needs to move from early adopters into a system where all homeowners can go solar and we can still maintain a grid. You see markets like Hawaii, where solar saturation is such that batteries really are required for the grid network to work there. We're seeing that in pockets in California, where it's becoming increasingly important to consider, now that we're getting solar penetration with homeowners and this bill would have taken away essentially the entire economic benefit of being able to sell your unused electricity to the grid if I'm understanding it correctly, is that right?

Ben Millar: No. You do not sell your energy to the grid. You simply, when you provide energy to the grid, you actually get a credit for that, but there's no selling to the grid. You're just getting a one for one credit exchange for the energy you produced. But I do want to talk a little bit to what you were saying before, but it's really important nuance. There's a couple things that were said, "Hey, if you are a solar homeowner, maybe you're not paying your fair share to the grid." One, solar homeowners in Florida and across the country often still pay a decent amount of money into for their utility bills. They're paying connection fees as well as not everybody gets a hundred percent of their energy from the sun and from their solar system so that they actually are on average paying into the grid, not to mention that solar homeowners actually cost less to actually service.

Ben Millar: Another interesting point there is to say, "Hey, they're not paying for the grid." If you think about what Beth said, these are for profit companies. If you decide to have your own garden, you are not paying for your grocery store. It doesn't mean that you are somehow being subsidized in some way. That argument I think, is not quite right until you reach at least a really high saturation. In Florida, we were less than a 1% saturation. The studies done by NREL show that there is a basically non-existent exchange of benefits/credit/subsidy until you reach 10%. Then once you reach 10% saturation, this is the amount of generation you're actually still pretty negligible in those numbers. We weren't talking about, "Hey, these are ne negligible changes that they were interacting." They were actually getting rid of that meter right away.

Dave Anderson: Thanks for the clarification. I think it's a common misconception, but commonly described as buying and selling your energy with the grid. That's not quite what it is. The net energy metering agreements typically are allowing you to receive a credit off of your energy bill, up to the value that they would charge you for electricity and different states have different net energy metering exchanges. For example, in the State of Utah, where we're filming this podcast from, it's a fixed rate. You have what they call a feed in tariff. Rather than having a one for one exchange for net energy metering, where you get a credit that equals the value of the electricity that you would've purchased at the same time, you get a different rate for the energy that's placed back on the grid compared to the energy that you'd pull off the grid and consume.

Dave Anderson: There's different net energy metering programs. They tend to be fairly similar where you're getting something close to a one for one exchange in the more favorable utilities. There are, of course, utilities that don't offer any net energy metering. For those customers, really the only way to consider solar would be to use storage almost like an off grid solution. Beth, I might want to come back to you if I could and just talk about, so you're a political operative. You had admitted to me before we started the podcast that you're actually fairly new to solar and you are a solar rookie so to speak, really only looking into it since the beginning of 2022. Maybe you can just help us understand how is it that FlaSEIA needed first of all, to have a political operative.

Dave Anderson: First of all, if I can get your opinion on this, why are we in an industry that's so politicized? Why is it that our long term viability as an industry requires us to work with the heads official or officials at the very top of government that's both at the federal level, as well as at the state level? Maybe just go into a little bit about exactly why FlaSEIA felt it was so necessary to find a contractor like you to come in and help with the fight.

Beth Matuga: Sure. That's a great series of questions. I'll start with the first one. The reason that FlaSEIA needed someone like me is because Florida Government is incredibly complex. Florida's a very, very big state and a very big solar market and commensurately, our government is large and very confusing for folks who don't understand it. Knowing how committee meetings are run, knowing what legislators like to hear about, knowing the best methods to communicate with legislators and their offices, and then doing the coordination work on the back end to make sure that the individual members of FlaSEIA who are, for example, traveling to Tallahassee, to testify at a committee meeting, know where the committee meeting is, how are they getting there?

Beth Matuga: Are they prepared to speak correctly and clearly, and coherently in front of legislators for committee meetings to testify in committee meetings? It sounds, I guess, now that I'm explaining it, a little simple, but these are pretty complicated matters and knowing how staff members and government and those people who populate them want to consume information and want to be contacted and what the best ways to do that is in order to persuade them or educate them on our issues is why they needed a person like me.

Beth Matuga: I spent a great deal of my time organizing members to travel to Tallahassee, to speak directly with legislators, to speak directly with their staff members and in some cases to disabuse them of some of these notions that Ben mentioned. Because this is such a complex issue and because it's a niche issue, a lot of the staff members and a lot of the legislators, these folks can't know everything and they can't know every detail about every industry in the state. We did a lot of education and that requires having folks like Ben, who are on rooftops all day and know exactly how this works, traveling to Tallahassee to explain it and to be good messengers and good representatives of the solar industry in a way that is effective for our effort. Traveling to Tallahassee, putting on a suit and tie, making sure that you're talking points are organized, providing the correct paperwork in order to be heard before a committee, all of those things take backend work.

Beth Matuga: That's essentially what I spent a lot of time doing. That's the reason that's you would need someone like me. I also have a variety of relationships with vendors for radio, television, digital ads. We were really able to leverage my relationships with those folks in order to get the best bang for our buck for a larger mass communication plan that we embarked on. For your second question, which I believe was why is everything so politicized? I would just simply answer that that everything is politicized these days. We live in a... I hate it when people say, "We live in unprecedented times." I would kill to live in precedented times. Everything is political these days. You essentially... Solar is a regulated industry. Energy is a regulated industry and government does have a role in regulating the safety of the power that we consume.

Beth Matuga: By virtue of the fact, look, government should do limited things, but it should do those limited things well. I think the public safety is at heart with government regulating power industries or any energy generating industry, but the devil's in the details like you said. Do I think that there are things that government is overreaching on? Absolutely. But I do think the government has a role in regulating certain things, but so there is a protective role of the government here and there is a fundamental fairness issue here. That's why it is an issue that comes before the state legislature.

Dave Anderson: Ben, I think it might be useful to talk about, and I think you have a really interesting perspective, both as a member of FlaSEIA on the board, as well as business owner, as well as a resident of Florida, but why is it important that this specific bill was vetoed as it relates to solar in Florida?

Ben Millar: The reason that it's important to my business and important to many of the business that make up FlaSEIA is that this would've devastated the market. It would have essentially turned this great homeowner investment into not so great of an investment. Therefore, the demand for the product that we sell would've drastically reduced, which is essentially what the utilities wanted to do. We're talking about thousands of jobs lost. I opened my business in September, and so we had goals. We had plans, we had written things that we wanted to do. Even just the fact that the bill was filed, had us put many of the things that we were going to invest in on hold. A lot of companies were facing that same issue. Even when we moved further into a bill that had been modified, people were starting to think, "Do I just get out of the industry right now?" The bill was made to kill the industry.

Ben Millar: It wasn't made to create some level of fairness or anything to that degree. It was meant to make sure that the utilities maintained complete control and that there wasn't really much of a solar industry that was outside of the utility to be alive. It would've devastated the industry as well. I want to go a little bit further of, "Hey, why is it then... Why do we hire people like Beth? Why do we go and find ourself in that legislative realm?" Part of it is I used to work at Solar City in 2012 or '13 in the early '10 of 2013 to '17. We always said, "Hey, you're going out there and you're competing against the utility when you're meeting one on one with a homeowner." In a way, you are. You're saying, "Hey, you can... There is a cheaper, more affordable way." But the utilities, they're not competing with us with third party solar companies in that way, they're not competing with us at the kitchen table.

Ben Millar: They're competing with us at the legislative realm, at the regulatory realm, that's where they're competing. And that's where they're trying to write the rules of the game that we're playing. That's where they're trying to write the rules at the market. They're absolutely trying to tilt them in their own favor. They do that by continually being a presence and continually telling what we would call false premise narratives in order to tilt the scales in their favor. That's why as an industry, it is imperative that we understand that grown up big industries must actually have a legislative realm. Whether that's just being part of your industry association or having your own lobbyist, you've got to actually take part in that realm because that is where the utilities are fighting you.

Dave Anderson: We had another guest on the podcast recently, Karen Baron. Karen Baron is an investor in a handful of different solar companies, as well as was an owner of a distributor that recently sold the CED. Certainly an expert in the industry. One of the main topics of conversation for us was we were in some ways jealous of Australia as a market that has received 30% market penetration for homeowner, for residential solar, and talked about how it's a frictionless place to do business. Essentially the government legislates all of the utility across the country, as well as has set up really favorable, really frictionless, easy rules for contractors to be able to install solar throughout the country. Then we started talking about there is an advantage to that because it's a pretty pro solar economy and pretty pro solar country. It's favorable circumstances to work with.

Dave Anderson: But one of the benefits of being here in the United States, a much larger country is you have 50 different utility commissions. You have many, many utilities within each of those different utility commissions, 50 different states incubating the best ways to do business. But as a result, you've got at the federal level, I think there's a lot of really positive tailwinds helping to promote solar and renewables. Then at the local level, sometimes we find a lot of really difficult friction points, whether it's with the local inspectors or the restrictions on contractors on how to install solar and how we install solar, how we submit for permits, the plan requirements can vary pretty significantly, one city, one market to the next and then different utility commissions putting their own rules in place.

Dave Anderson: That's why when I talked about Florida being an analog, essentially what Florida's going through right now, other states have gone through in either a similar way or in less similar ways, but going through different struggles on their own. It becomes, for example, I'll just mention Florida... Excuse me, California, which has been one of the great solar states in the United States and is facing NEM 3.0, Net Energy Metering 3.0, and it's one of the largest solar renewable economies in the country. That economy is being really threatened as well. It took a governor, not a veto, but a governor being extremely vocal to get NEM 3.0 substantively changed. Here's the bad news for the California market is while NEM 3.0 never was fully put into place as proposed, there was never any resolution about what NEM 3.0 actually is going to be. It's this kick the can down the road, uncertainty business is really not knowing what to do still. I think in Florida, you're dealing a little bit with that as well. Is that right?

Ben Millar: To some degree, I think what's happened now is that people do feel a little bit more comfortable to say, "Yes, hey, I can actually sign... Maybe I can sign that three year lease for my new warehouse." "Hey, we should hire that extra sales team." "Hey, we should hire those extra installers." But there is this looming threat in some ways that the utilities... This is not a one stop, one try, one at bat try for the utilities. They've actually tried to get rid of net metering multiple times now. One, they did it with a constitutional amendment, which was also called... It got an award for being the most deceptive language of any constitutional amendment that was put forward. They tried to sneak it through the PSC. Now they've tried again through the legislator. It is their goal to get rid of solar.

Ben Millar: While we do feel great and we need to move forward and be able to run our businesses, we do know that we also need to make sure that we are still there to educate legislators, to help them understand why solar is important, not only to contractors, but always also to homeowners and really actually help them understand the energy paradigm and help us move forward to a better grid and a healthy relationship between homeowners and utility companies as we move forward. Because there's a lot of changes that are coming to our energy infrastructure that we all need to work together to move towards.

Dave Anderson: Ben, I might just ask you, as part of that education process, what should solar look like or the solar adoption look like and how can contractors like yourself and homeowners best work with the public utility commissions and the utilities to come up with the right kinds of legislation, the right kind of regulation for the industry as for Florida, and then using Florida, hopefully as a positive example for the rest of the country, what should that look like?

Ben Millar: I think the governor here has said that Florida is the freest state. I think one thing is we don't want to regulate where we don't have competition. I think competition is a great thing. We shouldn't be writing laws that push one group out of the mix. If you're talking about going forward, I think there's a strong need for real look at what our grid looks like, what our energy infrastructure looks like going forward and not being utility centric, but Florida and Floridian centric. That should take information from multiple stakeholders. Associating one of them as the industry association, obviously the utility should be involved, but we should have a real plan of what we want do and what our infrastructure looks like on a go for. We need to know who we're going to be when we grow up.

Ben Millar: But we need to actually have a plan. We've got a thousand people a day moving to Florida. That's the most recent number. We've got EVs are coming. They're here. The infrastructure that's going to be needed to take on EVs is immense. We've got a lot of challenges and I think we can work together. I think we can educate everybody without pushing out one form of energy and making sure you keep a monopoly. I think we need to be open to all of the things going forward and particularly in these inflationary times.

Dave Anderson: Beth, I might come back to you for a second, as it relates to the work that you did specifically for FlaSEIA and actually for Florida. I like the way you said that, Ben, it's really the work that you did, I think is for the benefit of Florida, not just for FlaSEIA, the organization, and for contractors, and for homeowners alike, but was the veto from the perspective of a political operative, was that a win or would it have been better to have gone to vote and ultimately been shot down? Is this considered a win? What do you think the best possible outcome was? Did we get that and going forward, what sorts of things do you think are going to be required and necessary to ensure that we can keep on the track of keeping Florida free?

Beth Matuga: I think the most overarching feeling about the veto is that it was a very big surprise. While Florida's governor does have veto power, it's not something that is exercised with great regularity. I think that the prevailing notion, the common notion was that the governor would sign this bill. It did come as a little bit of a surprise. I think moreover, it is almost a David and Goliath story. The little industry that could rallied the troops and went up against some pretty stacked odds and got the veto. As for whether it would've been better if the bill had died in committee or not passed on the floor. I'm not exactly sure what the ramifications would have been there. Obviously, things would've had to change pretty significantly, politically speaking for either of those things to happen.

Beth Matuga: I will say that the ramifications of the veto indicate to us that this issue is probably not dead and will probably return if not next year, very shortly thereafter. Perhaps it'll return in the same form or fashion. Perhaps there will be a PSC battle, which is our Public Service Commission here in Florida. Those are all options on the table, but I think that the veto itself was met not only with some interested shock, but also a great sigh of relief. Very shortly after that sigh of relief, the dawning realization that, now we may have to do this again now pretty quickly, perhaps in months.

Dave Anderson: I guess Ben alluded to it that this is not actually the first effort or attempt by the utilities to go through a channel. This time, legislative to either substantively change or remove net energy metering benefits for the homeowner. We should assume that... It's a very safe assumption that those that are opponents of net energy metering either because they have a financial gain or they just for whatever reason don't like it, are almost certainly going to try to either come at it with a new bill, a new approach to try to undermine the benefits of the existing net energy metering program.

Beth Matuga: I think that's probably fair to speculate. What Ben referred to with the constitutional amendment would be a different issue should they try to go that route again. The laws have since changed. It now takes a 60% vote for passage of a constitutional amendment in Florida. It's a little bit harder now. It used to be 50%. It's a little bit harder now than it was prior. It may be that's not as attractive an option. I certainly think that there's work to be done at the PSC now that the bill has been vetoed. The great news for the industry of course, is that folks can remain in business while we undertake these other efforts or start looking for where it may go in the future.

Dave Anderson: Ben, I might ask you as a member of FlaSEIA, obviously this was the most important thing that Florida was dealing with in terms of the solar industry. But now that the veto has been enacted, or now that there has been a veto, what are the topics that are of the next most importance for FlaSEIA and ultimately as a solar advocacy group and the proliferation of solar in Florida. What are the things that FlaSEIA is particularly interested in now that this veto has been... Now that the bill has been vetoed?

Ben Millar: There are a few things, there are a lot of things that we need to work on. I think first and foremost, it's making sure that what we're just saying that this issue isn't going away is kept in the minds of people. I think to some degree, we were caught sleeping at the wheel a little bit, no pun intended since I'm behind a wheel here. Each time that we went through either the constitutional amendment or whether it was the fight of the PSC, I think there was a sigh of relief and a, "Hey, let's just put our heads down and go to work now." Said, "Why do we need an industry association? We defeated the main issue." Now, I think people have come to the understanding that, "Hey, this has to be part of our business now."

Ben Millar: We have to be competing at this legislative PSC level. I say competing, it's really just education, but we need to be present. We need to have a voice. We need to make sure that we're heard by the people that are regulating us and the people that are creating the laws. Again, as Beth said, many legislators, they're really bright people, but they can't know everything. They must rely on either industries or homeowners or people to actually communicate with them and tell them what's important. We need to continue doing that. Then secondarily, we're going to do other normal industry stuff, which is exciting. That's working on our permitting infrastructure inside of Florida. We're working with the SolarAPP+ Foundation and working with building officials here in Florida to see if they'd be interested in taking that and seeing if that would help them. We're interested in insurance matters, we're in interested in some licensing issues. We're doing what becomes a little bit easier stuff to deal with, although it can still be frustrating to most contractors. It's not so critical that it doesn't keep you up at night necessarily. Those are fun things to worry about.

Dave Anderson: Maybe just as a fun... I don't know if it's fun or painful for you since you're in the throes of it in Florida, but as an anecdote, I know that one of the interesting policies that exists in Florida that's unique to the Florida is if you install solar above, I think it's a 10 kilowatt AC, you're required to have an umbrella insurance policy as a homeowner, which is just an added cost. It's protecting against a really no risk scenario type of a situation. It's an interesting policy, not sure exactly how that one came into be. I think, as contractors, it's pretty easy to scratch your head about how certain policies come into place. We had Brian Lynch who is a 15 year veteran of the solar industry on the podcast recently.

Dave Anderson: He talked about in his 15 years, some of the legislature that he's seen come into place, or some of the laws or regulations that he's seen come into place and regulations, once they come in, they're pretty difficult to get rid of. Oftentimes, you'll have people that are three or four generations removed from the initial people that put the policies in that don't even know why they're there, but they're defenders of those new regulations and policies. That's an example of a Florida nuance to doing solar if you're a contractor, you have to all of a sudden become friends with someone that sells insurance umbrella policies because of the size of systems out there, 10 kilowatt AC system is not that uncommon in a Florida install.

Ben Millar: That's right. Homeowners use a lot of power trying to stay cool.

Dave Anderson: Yes, they do. It's one of the funniest states to say the least and an area where people are using a significant amount of energy. Solar and renewables are critical. It's so important that we can actually make sure that we have a friendly environment and a friendly economy to allow people to power their homes in a more responsible, better, more renewable, more sustainable way. Obviously on the Solar Podcast, we're huge advocates and altruists about trying to get people to use solar, not just for the economic benefits, but for the environmental benefits as well. Again, Florida, big consumers of energy. It's a market where even at the residential level, if we can get reasonable penetration with residential homeowners, we're making a significant dent in the amount of energy that's being produced by non-renewable sources. Obviously here at the Solar Podcast, we're thrilled that Florida has taken steps in a positive direction to the benefit of Floridians, to the benefit of the solar industry, to the benefit of businesses like yourself, to the benefit of one of the most important industries, and one of the most important growing industries in terms of hiring in Florida as well.

Dave Anderson: Wanted to give each one of you guys an opportunity. I know that we're butting up against the amount of time that we'd allocated, wanted to give each guys of you an opportunity to talk about just as some closing comments, some of the things that you would like to see either from a political perspective, or just from a general adoption perspective of solar, and maybe give one last opportunity to talk about some of the things that you're excited about, either with FlaSEIA or things that you're individually working on. I don't know if, Ben, you want to lead us out. I think we go, ladies first.

Ben Millar: Think we'll go ladies first. I think that's appropriate.

Beth Matuga: Who said chivalry's dead. Thank you, Ben Millar. Thank you, Ben Millar, for your service on the board. Our board is a voluntary board and so a membership association is only as strong as its members and FlaSEIA is fortunate to have some very thoughtful and hardworking uncompensated leadership. I think the future is certainly bright there. I will point out that we are having a solar conference. The FlaSEIA Solar Summit is coming up in June. If you happen to be in the Tampa Bay Region and you want to get some of this wonderful Florida sunshine, please join us. We have all of the information for the summit on our website, URL That's There's a big old button right on the front of the website for you to click to get more information about that. Now that I sound like an infomercial, I will just close by saying the solar industry in Florida is robust and ready. I think that there are bright days ahead. Thank you for having me, Dave.

Dave Anderson: You bet. Thanks so much, Beth, for the work that you did on behalf of FlaSEIA as well as on behalf of the solar industry as well. We'll go ahead and link to the website as well so that if listeners are interested in getting more information either about this conference or about FlaSEIA in general, we can link to your website so they can go and check that out.

Beth Matuga: Great. Thank you.

Ben Millar: I'll just end with we've started a company, Sun Harvest Energy. We're having a great time with it. We're now bringing on sales people and we're growing our team. That is in large part because of the relief we've gotten from this detail. Thanks to the governor for that. Then from a FlaSEIA standpoint, if you're not already a member, join FlaSEIA, get involved, that might be, "Hey, we donated money," but it also could simply be, "Hey, we attended some meetings and helped spread the word." It could be, "Hey, we went to an advocacy day." It could mean that you go to Tampa and you have an amazing time. Because we're right on the water, we've got restaurants, bars, yachts, right there. It's going to be a really good time. If you want to have a good time and don't necessarily want to talk about a lot of policy, that's fine, too. Come have a great time.

Dave Anderson: Coming from one of the flyover states, it's a pretty good sell job. Although I will admit that Salt Lake has some stunning views being here, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, but over the last handful of cold months, cold and windy and rainy and snowy months we've had, Florida sounds pretty nice to that. Again, thank you so much for coming on today. It's been absolutely fascinating to learn both about FlaSEIA's involvement in getting this bill vetoed, understanding from the perspective of both a business owner, as well as a Florida resident, what this really means for all Floridians and actually the solar industry, there was a real sigh of relief and then a vocal applause once the veto happened, because I think it really signals the overall overarching general sentiment of homeowners, of government agencies, of people in general, wanting to diversify our energy away from these centralized monopolistic utilities and giving homeowners the ability to make their own energy choices.

Dave Anderson: Solar is one of the most responsible, best economic things that a homeowner can do. We're thrilled for Florida really taking a stand and for FlaSEIA being involved in helping to take that stand on behalf of the solar industry and we would encourage and we're excited for other governmental agencies and for other public utility commissions to take note of the way that things have gone in Florida. We hope that for Florida's benefit as well, that when other investor-owned utilities try to wage war against net energy metering policies, that they can take notice of some of the other great examples from other states that have said that this is an important thing for homeowners across the country. Again, thank you so much for coming on, Beth. It was fantastic to learn a little bit more about what it means to be a political operative and, Ben, we're really thrilled to understand really from, as we said at the beginning of the podcast, from someone that's really spending time in the trenches, both on the political side, but also just working in the solar industry from Florida.

Dave Anderson: Again, thank you so much for coming on. It's been really fantastic and educational. I appreciate it.

Beth Matuga: Thanks, Dave.

Dave Anderson: Thanks, Beth.

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