With energy bills on the rise and the federal government offering generous tax incentives for renewable energy investments, more and more Florida homeowners are seriously considering rooftop solar.
But when calculating the cost of managing energy bills, many would-be solar owners neglect to consider how solar will affect their home insurance bill – or how difficult it may be to find a company that will insure them at all.
And with insurance costs increasing for all Florida homeowners, potential solar customers may also find that price increases will wipe out all of the energy savings they expect from solar.
“It’s very difficult and a lot of people don’t realize that most carriers don’t accept solar panels,” said Dulce Suarez-Resnick, vice president of Miami-based Acentria Insurance.
Oakland Park homeowner Holy Strawbridge learned this the hard way. He installed an 8,000-kilowatt system on his home about two years ago and recently signed up for coverage with the Edison Insurance Company. After the insurance agent sent an inspector to his home, he received a letter canceling his entire policy.
“I was shocked,” Strawbridge said. “I have never written an insurance policy and I have lived in this house since 2001.”
Reasons cited in Edison’s denial letter: His solar panels are not eligible for coverage due to the age of his roof (11 years) and because he has a tile roof.
That’s not the only reason insurers won’t cover rooftop solar, according to interviews with solar installers, solar energy advocates, and insurance agents. Insurers who do business in Florida offer a variety of reasons for refusing to book a home with them.
Increasingly, insurers are saying that solar systems connected to net metering to utilities — which are nearly all in Florida — pose a special risk of injury to line workers and damage to the utility grid.
Florida Power & Light’s metering contract requires homeowners to cover all potential losses, says Ryan Papy, president of Palmetto Bay-based Keyes Insurance. “So if there are surges running on your panels that damage the grid or other buildings, the customer is responsible.”
Solar installers and supporters call that justification baseless. They say all equipment used to connect rooftop solar systems to the grid complies with state building and electrical codes and is inspected by utilities before installation. Agencies also have the power to come to solar owners’ facilities and shut them down if they suspect any safety issues, he says.
Solar advocates wonder if concerns about metering are the reasons insurers are giving for dropping customers.
Many insurers operating in Florida, facing significant losses, have been dropping or not changing policies to reduce the risk they have on their books of business. In some cases, state insurance regulators have ordered insurers to cancel policies in order to purchase reinsurance – the insurance that the insurer must carry to cover all liabilities in the event of a disaster.
Justin Hoysradt, president of Vinyasun, a solar power company in West Palm Beach, says the dangers of breastfeeding are exaggerated.
Since 2006, all power inverters have followed the UL 1741 electrical standard, Hoysradt said. This standard requires solar system inverters to be able to detect outages or any power outages and disconnect the solar panels from the grid.
Hoysradt says it is not aware of any documented injuries or damage from the UL 1741 certified inverter.
The cutting technology is so reliable that utilities have recently eliminated the requirement that solar panels have remote isolation switches, he said.
Until about a year ago, Hoysradt had never heard from customers complaining that they couldn’t get or keep insurance for their solar panels. Now, one potential customer a day says their insurer won’t guarantee they won’t be covered if they install solar, he said.
Some insurers have told homeowners that net metering makes them commercial utilities and they should no longer have homeowner’s insurance, said Heaven Campbell, Florida program manager for Solar United Neighbors, a statewide nonprofit that helps solar customers form co-ops to protect the best prices.
Campbell says his agency has fielded about 60 landlord complaints in the past year. They either say they were stopped after installing solar panels or were told they no longer needed help if they installed panels, he said.
Olympus Insurance put a large list of property and liability concerns in 2020 that was written by the Office of Insurance Regulation, while seeking permission to exclude solar systems from the risks that should be covered.
They included increased damage due to the rise of wind when solar panels are installed on the roof, increased wind or hail damage to the solar system itself, fire hazards from loose or poorly connected parts or wires, increased risk or electricity, availability of electricity. toxic substances and products from the panels themselves, and problems that can be related to being returned to the group.
Without commenting on the validity of the concerns, the Office of Insurance Regulation told Olympus that it would not allow a statutory deduction for solar unless the company offered solar owners an opportunity to “recoup” the costs at a higher rate. Olympus stopped booking. It was not immediately clear from the office database if the company resubmitted by purchase order.
Campbell contends that rooftop solar panels make roofs more susceptible to gusts of wind. He said that when Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle in October 2018, many roofs with solar panels remained intact among the roofs without solar panels that were damaged.
The Solar United Neighbors website has many photos of installations that took place during the storm that damaged the roofs of surrounding buildings. Campbell says current building codes require solar roofs to withstand wind.
Paul Handerhan, president of the Federal Association for Insurance Reform, said the concern about wind power comes from the potential for significant damage if solar panels and roofs are torn off together.
Suarez-Resnick agrees: “With strong winds like a Category 3 hurricane, you can do a lot of damage if the panels fly off and land on your neighbor’s roof or car.”
Companies that insure rooftop solar power are allowed to impose stricter conditions for coverage, reports show.
Edison, the company that blocked the Strawbridge plan, will only cover buildings with solar panels installed after 2016, on shingle or metal roofs less than 10 years old, on flat roofs less than five years old, and not producing more than 10 kilowatts of electricity. , which is as small or as small as you can make a roof.
As Strawbridge found out, Edison could not guarantee solar panels mounted on clay or tiled roofs. Stacey Giulianti, chief legal officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, Edison’s parent company, said, “We chose not to insure solar panels on tile roofs because of the problems that came with attaching the panels to the roof. Most tile roofs require fasteners that drill holes into the roof. of tiles.”
Solar panels are often installed without drilling into the tiles, Hoysradt said. Many installers remove the clay tiles where the solar panels are attached to the roof and replace them with aluminum tiles that won’t break or break when drilled.
Hoysradt noted that state licensing requirements for solar installers require knowledge of roofing, electrical and plumbing materials.
“We’re not a group of people who throw roofs without notice,” he said. “There is no reason for insurance carriers not to cover the sun on a tile roof.”
However, solar roof buyers can expect to find more insurance policies unless and until the state legislature decides to enact more comprehensive policies.
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The National Trade Organization Solar Energy Industries Association is working with the solar advocacy groups Florida SEIA, Solar United Neighbors and Vote Solar to reach out to insurers and try to introduce legislation to eliminate confusion about insurance, said Will Giese, director of the association at Southeast. .
The good news for Strawbridge and solar owners is that there are insurance policies that don’t limit coverage for solar homes or impose long exclusion lists. They include the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which is called a “final insurer.”
Citizens cover solar systems as part of the system. No special approvals or extensions are required, spokesman Michael Peltier said. “It’s just going to be added to the replacement cost of the house,” he said. Of course, adding solar panels increases the cost of a home, so homeowners can expect to pay more when adding solar.
One mistake a homeowner should never make: Installing a solar system without looking into insurance options, Suarez-Resnick said. A professional can tell you if your roof is nearing the end of its life and needs to be replaced first. It’s a pain to get new insurance, and it’s expensive to remove and replace solar panels because Citizens or another insurer wants you to get a new roof.
Or you can look for a solar installer, such as Universal Contracting and Solar, that specializes in roofing and solar installations. You can find long-term financing and receive a 30% tax credit to reduce the cost of the combined service, said Jenifer Kempka, the company’s director of business development.
“Right now is the best time to go solar,” he said.
Ron Hurtibise reports on business and consumer affairs for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.