For Florida homeowner, “biggest barrier to solar is who controls your utilities”

Guest Blog | January 2, 2015 | Energy Policy, Solar

This blog is fourth in a series on diversity in the solar energy field in Florida. Click here for other posts in that series.

Homeowner Michelle A. Vigil has covered her downtown Tampa house and her carport with solar panels (with the help of installer Steve Rutherford, who we met earlier in the series).

Why? “It’s good for the environment and it’s great for my pocketbook.”

Solar policies like net metering to credit her for power she produces and a rebate from her utility, Tampa Electric Company (TECO), put solar within reach for Michelle, a native Floridan who runs a modest, artfully tropical, single-income household.

She expects to pay the panels off within three to five years, and is already making progress, as shown in the statement from TECO at left (click the image to enlarge). The amounts in red are her credits – at the end of the year, if she has credits remaining, TECO will write her a check for those kilowatt-hours. She estimates that the bills for her 1200 square foot home have dropped from about $120 to $42.

Michelle was dismayed to hear that the Florida NAACP had advocated for an end to the solar rebate program, citing concerns that solar energy and energy efficiency don’t work for lower-income communities that are more likely to be people of color. She saw right to the heart of the issue:

“I’m of Spanish descent and a woman, and I’m not wealthy by any means. Solar works for me, and with good policies it can work for everyone.

“We all live under the same sun. If you are, say, a black homeowner you have the same opportunities with solar… UNLESS the utilities don’t allow your communities to participate – that is more prohibitive than anything else. The biggest barrier is who controls your utilities.”

Unfortunately, instead of making solar power more accessible with better policies, Florida’s utilities seem to be going the other direction. With the blessing of Florida’s Public Service Commission, which theoretically does control them but is appointed by legislators who receive utility campaign contributions, TECO will be discontinuing its rebate program after January 2015. Rebates will be available one last time in 2015.

SACE fears that utilities will take aim at Florida’s net metering policy next. Stay tuned to help us retain access to this essential policy for all Floridians!


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