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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

The Sunshine State Isn’t Solar-Friendly: Expansion of Solar Power is Up to Voters

Oct 31, 2014 03:48PM ● By Linda Sechrist

A review of newspaper articles and op-eds on Florida solar from this past summer reveals that the state’s utility companies are avoiding transparency on utility bills; discouraging the use of solar; and reducing both their energy conservation goals and energy efficiency programs, including rebates for the installation of solar panels and power-saving appliances. Concurrently, they are pushing for construction of costly new power plants.

Florida law hinders solar development by outlawing third-party financing of independent power projects. While some states allow solar companies to sell electricity directly to consumers, Florida prohibits it.

Florida power companies have undue influence over the relevant legislative agenda in Tallahassee, according to Power Play: Political Influence of Florida’s Top Energy Corporations, a new report by Integrity Florida. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Tallahassee research and watchdog group reports that since 2004, utility companies have spent $18 million on lobbying to sway state political campaigns and influence the Florida Public Service Commission.

Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which require utilities to buy renewable power and allow for solar installation financing, but not Florida. It also lags far behind in commercial solar installations because it’s the only state that applies a personal property tax on business solar systems that otherwise would be constructed by retail giants and other large-rooftopped companies.

“The state of Florida has prevented what I estimate would be 10,000 new jobs created by solar companies eager to come to the Sunshine State to get in on the solar bonanza happening almost everywhere in the U.S. except here,” says Naples resident Neville Williams, author of Sun Power.

Although certain legislators say they are tired of subsidizing solar, the federal government provides $22 in subsidies for coal, oil and nuclear for every dollar invested in clean energy.

Nevertheless, installed solar capacity in Florida has shot up more than 400 percent since 2010 as the cost of raw silicon materials has dropped from $44 to $2 per pound. Solar electric systems, formerly installed for $50,000, now cost $18,000. Numerous large solar arrays are being built in Florida territories served by electric co-ops or municipal power companies, and Florida Power & Light (FPL) has installed more solar power than any other American utility.

Since 2004, per capita electricity use in Florida has fallen nearly 12 percent. While the state’s economy and population are growing, power demand is not. Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and FPL propose that the solution for projected energy needs is building more power plants, but freeing up energy markets would reduce the need for more power plants run by imported fossil fuels.

The 2014 elections will determine Florida’s energy future one way or the other, and the battle for a sustainable future crosses party lines. Nationwide, many conservative organizations are among those that have joined the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and progressive solar organizations to fight for energy independence. Sunshine could make Florida energy independent, too, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center and the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. But Floridians will have to demand it.

Visit the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association for a list of solar-friendly election campaigns at flaseia.org or call 407-339-2010.

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