Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Audubon has been a vocal opponent of both the rooftop solar bill and the last-minute SB 2508 moving through committees this week, both of which would negatively impact Florida’s environment and climate resilience for years to come. In addition, we are working to improve a stormwater bill that has the potential to create pollution “hotspots.” On the federal level, Audubon celebrated this week the introduction of the South Florida Ecosystem Enhancement Act, which would reauthorize the South Florida Geographic Program, an EPA-run program that advances ecological research, monitoring, and education throughout South Florida.
Solar panels on top of a roof, with blue sky in the background.
Rooftop Solar Bill Advances Despite Vocal Opposition, Threat to Climate Resiliency in Florida
HB 741, Net Metering, filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Dover) barreled through two committees this week. On Monday, the bill passed the State Administration and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Stevenson, R-St. Johns) with 9 yeas and 6 nays.

The bill will have a chilling effect on Florida’s growing rooftop solar industry, a key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving climate resiliency in the Sunshine State.

Under current law, solar panel owners who create excess energy can sell that energy back to the utilities at the retail rate that the utility charges other customers, a process known as net metering. This helps those who want to install rooftop solar make back their initial investment, lowering the overall cost for those interested in this renewable energy solution. Moreover, by paying rooftop solar owners the retail rate for excess energy, more people can afford to install the panels.

The original legislation, if passed, would immediately change net metering, forcing homeowners to sell the electricity at the wholesale rate; i.e. what the utility company pays to procure the electricity from its usual sources. Rooftop solar owners, environmental advocates like Audubon, and the solar industry have argued this would make rooftop solar too expensive for many and would destroy thousands of jobs in this growing industry.Amendments filed on Monday and then again on Tuesday attempted to address some of these concerns. The amendment provided a “glide path,” where net metering rates would decline gradually over time: 75% of the retail value in January 2023, 60% in 2026 and 50% in 2027, and then drop to the full wholesale rate in 2029. A grandfathering provision in the bill ensures those who have installed solar already will keep the retail rate for 20 years.While these are important improvements, one major barrier remains: Monthly rather than instantaneous netting is needed for homeowners to predict their net metering revenue with greater certainty. Without it, the effect on the industry will still be dire, even with the “glide path.”  While Audubon supported the amendment for moving the bill in the right direction, the bill is still too harmful to this essential renewable energy sector. Accordingly, even with the amendment, Audubon Florida does not support this bill.HB 741 also passed the House Commerce Committee 17 to 4 and the bill is now on Special Order Calendar in the House on March 1, 2022. Sen. Bradley (R- Orange Park), sponsor of the Senate companion, will present the bill at its last committee of reference, the Rules Committee, next week on March 1.

Thanks to the hundreds of Audubon advocates who responded to our alerts this week and last, who emailed their representatives on relevant committees to oppose the bill. Your voices are important to these discussions and we’re grateful for your advocacy!
Anhinga sitting on a large stick nest, with tree limbs in the background. Photo: John Troth/Audubon Photography Awards.
Changes to Rural and Family Lands Program Threatens Future of Florida Land Conservation
Sen. Albritton (R-Wauchula) amended SB 2508, a controversial water bill, last week after stakeholder groups and Governor Ron DeSantis voiced loud opposition to provisions that would throw a wrench into Everglades restoration timelines and initiatives. Further changes could be negotiated in budget conference, and then the bill will be voted on by both chambers. The governor has not said if he will support it after the recent changes.While last week’s amendment reduced – but did not eliminate - the negative impact on Everglades restoration, the concerning provisions relating to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) remain unaltered.

Currently, the state protects land using three tools:  Florida Forever buys ecologically sensitive areas, Florida Communities Trust buys community parks, and Rural and Family Lands easements protect agricultural buffers from development. The changes to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in this bill would set it up as a competitor to Florida Forever rather than the complement it needs to be in protecting Florida’s ecosystems; leaves land pricing of the program to the discretion of the Department of Agriculture; and allows wetland mitigation on public lands. It fundamentally changes the program allowing full fee acquisitions, and allows the state to buy more than just ranches and timberlands.

This would redirect essential funding needed to preserve Florida's habitat, water quality, and resilience to a program without the transparency and accountability taxpayers need to have confidence that funding is being well spent and properties are being acquired based on their merits. Bill supporters have suggested this is needed to advance the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Care about the Corridor? We should support the state’s existing, successful science-based conservation program, Florida Forever. We don’t need a new program, we need to support the one we have—as voters intended in their overwhelming support of 2014’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment.   

We will be asking you to lend your voice to amending this harmful bill next week – stay tuned!
Anhinga. Photo: John Troth/Audubon Photography Awards.
Eastern Phoebe perched on a post, with an insect in its mouth. Photo: John Wolaver.
Audubon Continues to Work to Improve Stormwater Bill, Reduce Potential for Pollution "Hotspots"
HB 965 filed by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares) passed the State Affairs Committee (Chair Rep. Massullo, R-Lecanto), its last committee of reference, this week. The bill incentivizes the creation of large private stormwater treatment areas that government entities could “buy into” rather than managing their stormwater impacts onsite, as currently required.

This bill would allow government entities causing new harm to wetland resources to compensate for that offsite in one of these regional projects. This is a departure from current law that requires landowners to offset impacts onsite so that their immediate downstream neighbor receives water as clean or cleaner than they did.

Regional projects may be appropriate for restoring harm to watersheds, but this bill proposes to offset harm in one location with treatment in another location or even another waterbody altogether. This is neither as effective as onsite treatment nor is it fair to neighboring properties that may now become pollution “hotspots.” Offsetting impacts and improving water quality throughout a watersheds’ lakes and streams ensures all communities share in the benefits.An amendment filed late Tuesday evening added a few guardrails to the program that we hope will reduce the potential for harm to our waterbodies. Nevertheless, at a time when communities are struggling with how to improve their water quality, this bill remains a step in the wrong direction. The bill passed unanimously through committee, while its Senate companion SB 1426 (Sen. Burgess, R-Zephyrhills) is on the agenda in Senate Appropriations on February 28.Audubon continues to work to narrow the bill’s scope to restoration uses and to minimize Environmental Resource Permit eligibility. We are also advocating that this untested model should first be attempted as a pilot before making it available statewide.
Eastern Phoebe. Photo: John Wolaver.
A Great Egret showing off its long breeding feathers, standing in a stick nest. Photo: Frances Gaines/Audubon Photography Awards.
New Federal Bill Would Reauthorize Research and Monitoring Program for South Florida
On Tuesday, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Carlos Gimenez introduced the South Florida Ecosystem Enhancement Act to reauthorize the South Florida Geographic Program (SFGP), an EPA-run program advancing ecological research, monitoring, and education throughout South Florida.

This legislation would benefit South Florida’s beaches and coral reefs, bays and estuaries, with an expanded Program scope to include the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program and the Coastal and the Heartland National Estuary Partnership. Over the next five years, it would provide $50 million annually to the SFGP which has historically received $3-10 million per year.

“This is a historic investment in the South Florida Geographic Program,” said Audubon Florida’s Executive Director Julie Wraithmell, “We applaud Senator Rubio and Representative Gimenez for their commitment to reauthorizing this important conservation investment across the South Florida footprint.”
Great Egret. Photo: Frances Gaines/Audubon Photography Awards.
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