Solar power in Florida is on a roll, thanks to a grassroots movement of citizens installing rooftop systems on their homes.
“Studies show that rooftop solar helps everyone,” said Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana. “It creates jobs, provides clean energy, reduces stress on the commercial power grid, and provides a buffer against price increases by reducing the need for new power plants.”
Florida now leads the nation in new residential rooftop permits with a growth rate of 110% in 2016. The Florida Solar Energy Center reports solar jobs are growing at a rate of ten times that of the Florida economy.
“The increased focus on the renewable energy market is providing jobs and a substantial economic boost to both the U.S. and Florida,” said Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. “I expect the continued growth of solar power to prove beneficial to our economy and the environment, and I am proud that Florida is leading the way.”
Solar also has overwhelming public support, as evidenced by the 73% vote on solar tax abatement in August 2016. “Rooftop solar — with the falling prices we have seen — is the best investment a homeowner can make, but you should also make your home more energy efficient,” said Jim Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center. He cited a study that found that a solar system could increase the value of a home by about $15,000.
This week the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVFL) delivered a progress report on the status of solar power to the Florida Legislature and urged lawmakers to continue their support. Solar advocates and installers report that it is critical to ensure that rooftop and commercial receive support as well as utility expansion because maximum efficiency is created when solar is generated nearest to its usage. Also, in the event of extreme weather such as hurricanes, resiliency protection is increased as solar is paired with battery storage.
“Florida citizens are eager for local, cheap-to-produce energy from sunshine. Florida hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and households need a reliable source of power. Several studies have shown that when energy is generated close to its end user, it can provide a higher degree of stability when extreme weather hits,” said Deirdre Macnab, Chair of the Florida League’s solar initiative.
Two years ago, the League of Women Voters of Florida and another non-profit called Solar United Neighbors launched a new program in Florida to help homeowners learn about solar and use bulk buying power to get wholesale pricing on rooftop units. It is now the largest such program in the country, has helped thousands of homeowners learn about the power and savings of solar, and has added almost 7 MW of solar power to the state. In two years, 25 area co-ops have been launched following public sessions that have drawn more than 4,000 people.
Those co-ops are in urban areas like Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Broward, and Orange counties, as well as rural ones such as Highlands and Citrus counties.
Just a few months ago, trucks rolled into Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ driveway and she and her family joined the growing number of Florida homeowners going solar. Mayor Jacobs led a move by Orange County to sponsor solar co-ops, and the county is now in the midst of its fourth and fifth co-op.
Meanwhile, head of the Florida Sierra Club’s clean air initiative Phil Compton reported that three Florida cities — Orlando, St. Petersburg and Sarasota — have made commitments to use 100 percent clean energy no later than 2050.
In addition, 40 Florida mayors have pledged to convert their cities to 100 percent renewable energy. Thirteen are in Volusia County, making it first in the country.
Experts say Florida could be number one on the East Coast for solar due to its high number of sunny days and energy bills that are 40 percent higher than the national average. Even the recent decision by President Donald Trump to levy a 30 percent tariff on foreign made panels will not diminish the significant financial savings that consumers will see.
Citing the potential to grow solar even more, Susan Glickman, Florida Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said, “The recent growth in solar is good news but Florida still has much room for improvement. With less than 16,000 net metered systems out of almost 9 million electricity customers, solar is just beginning to hit its stride.”
She continued, “We can save consumers money, create good paying jobs, and keep precious energy dollar in the state all while protecting our natural environment. That’s a winning combination.”
Now Florida has a good shot at earning our nickname as the “Sunshine State.”