Solar contractors are railing against an often-overlooked provision in a renewable energy bill, which they say would lower reimbursement rates for energy produced by rooftop solar panels.

Right now, when a solar installation produces a surplus of energy (typically during the afternoon hours, when the sun shines brightest), customers’ meters spin backward, crediting them for the power they add to the grid. Kilowatt-hours they return to the grid cancel out equal amounts of power they consume when solar production is lower.

In other words, right now, owners of solar panels are reimbursed for the energy they produce based on the retail cost of electricity. Under Senate Bill 2078, customers would only recoup the utilities’ avoided costs, or the wholesale price, which may be a fraction of what they currently receive.

In an email to some of his customers, Robert Rogers of Sarasota-based Sunbelt Solar Energy warned that the bill “effectively cripples the state’s existing net-metering program while simultaneously providing a ratepayer-funded market for renewable energy that only utility companies can participate in and shutting the door on your independent production of renewable energy.”

The measure’s prospects have dimmed; the bill is set to be voted on by the Senate budget panel early this week. Last week, The Miami Herald reported that the House version appears dead, amid objections raised by Gov. Rick Scott and others over unregulated rate increases.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, would allow the state’s Public Service Commission to set net-metering rates based on what it decides is “fair and reasonable” and allow utilities to recover the cost of purchasing that power the same way they would for their own installations.

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