House bill

house bill 741 florida legislature rooftop solar utility tax ron desantis

The general store is the epitome of small American business. Even in today’s world of big-box retailers, I’m proud that our 112-year-old family business, Bailey’s General Store, continues to thrive as a cornerstone of the Sanibel and Captiva communities. One of the reasons we survived is our rooftop solar panels, with 380 panels, it’s the largest installation in town. My small business electricity bill was up to $25,000 a month. Since we went on the “kilowatt diet” that bill has come down to about $8,000. But, thanks to reckless legislation passed by the Florida legislature, other small businesses may lose their chance for the same good fortune.

Living in one of the sunniest and most beautiful parts of the country, I can’t conceive of an ethical reason why state legislators would support HB 741, thereby killing the rooftop solar industry. For me, solar panels have been the best-kept trade secret available, a self-sufficiency resource that the utilities didn’t want anyone to know about. Maybe that’s why I made it my mission to share the news of my good fortune with the community. If other small businesses take advantage of the benefits of rooftop solar, the whole economy thrives.

Solar was a game changer for Bailey’s General Store in more ways than one. This has been an effective step in improving our efficiency as a physical business. In 2016 we started installing 180 solar panels on our flat roof and the return on investment was instantaneous. Our electric bills dropped and the panels were paid off in 4.8 years. We have installed 200 additional panels on the roof and plan to install parking panels to support electric vehicle charging. We have started to become “greener” in other areas of the business to continue to save money. We switched to LED bulbs, started selling only sustainable products in the seafood market, and heat our water using waste energy from our refrigeration system. Not only do monetary savings continue to flow from these investments, but we are able to achieve our ESG goals, protecting the local environment in a way only a small business would care to do.

Other local businesses and organizations have followed with great success. The San Cap Bank has gone solar, as has the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. But the benefits we’ve seen in our small town could come to a screeching halt, as could any solar investment that other small businesses in Florida are looking to make.

The fate of my company now rests with Governor DeSantis. HB 741 will dump solar power on the roof, essentially allowing utilities to tax small businesses, churches and homeowners with the panels. These bills would institute new rules effectively charging rooftop solar customers extra for the electricity they generate, with the panels they paid for installation. This would have a devastating impact on the results of early adopters like me. But it’s not just Bailey that worries me. These are future businesses across the state planning to go solar. They will never have the same opportunities to save money and energy that I had, the same opportunities that transformed our business.

The money we’ve saved from solar power has helped me take better care of my staff and provide better options for shoppers. It’s one of the reasons my store has not only survived, but thrived in the age of chains and online shopping. This legislation kills one of the last lifelines for small businesses to remain self-sufficient, it kills our chances of long-term survival. The era of beloved convenience stores is not yet over, but if monopoly utilities succeed, the sun could set on small businesses in the Sunshine State.

Richard and Mead Johnson along with Calli, Bailie and Dane own Bailey’s General Store in Sanibel.