Florida Solar Month: History of Solar Power in the Sunshine State

Guest Blog | August 1, 2016 | Energy Policy, Solar

This is a guest post written by Jonathan Deesing, who is a home solar specialist with SolarPowerAuthority.com living in Salt Lake City, Utah. During the month of August, SACE will sharing blogs that promote solar in Florida, making this post the first in the #FloridaSolarMonth series. To follow along and read other blogs in this series, click here.

Some may assume that a state known as the “Sunshine State” would have one of the most thriving solar power industries in the country. Unfortunately, Florida has had a bumpy road when it comes to living up to its solar potential.  While it ranks third in solar potential, it’s 14th in cumulative solar installations. Like many other Southeastern states, Florida is still struggling to achieve the kind of policy reform needed to properly advance access to renewable energy for its residents.

Here’s a brief history of solar power in Florida and how Floridians can help shape the future of solar in their state.

Florida’s Solar Shortcomings

The Center for Biological Diversity gave Florida an F grade for solar, including its nonexistent Renewable Portfolio Standard, a ban on third-party ownership, lack of community solar programs, and scattered net-metering policies. Florida has attempted to implement clean energy changes a number of times, but many were short-lived — thanks, in part, to utility companies’ reluctance to embrace renewable energy. Regardless, these proposed changes came in the form of rebates, which don’t create a sustainable market long term.

  • 2011: Progress seemed to be on the horizon again in 2011, when the Florida Public Service Commission began requiring large utility companies to offer individual solar rebates. But the program was also allowed to expire just four years after it began because the utilities claimed it wasn’t cost effective for non-solar customers.

Solar Successes

It’s not all bleak: The cost of solar power is dropping. According to some estimates, a 5-kilowatt solar installation can offer Floridians a total net profit of $18,739 after 25 years, and affordable solar loans are becoming more available state-wide. Several projects and initiatives have been created to help spur development and implementation in recent years.   

  • 2009: In 2009, the state welcomed its first solar power plant, Florida Power & Light’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The plant, the largest in the nation at the time it was built, produces 52,000 megawatt/hours annually — enough to power 3,000 homes.
  • 2010: The FPL Martin Next Generation Clean Energy Center was opened the following year. It was the first hybrid solar and natural gas energy center in the world. The center uses fluid-filled tubes to produce steam and generate electricity.
  • 2013: A 15-megawatt Jacksonville Solar Project launched in 2013 and is one of the biggest solar installations in the state. It generates more than 24,000 megawatt/hours and avoids 22,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

The Future of Solar Power in Florida

This year will be a defining time for Florida’s solar power industry. Eco-conscious Floridians should be aware of several upcoming initiatives that will require their support to pass.

  • August Primary Election: In August, residents can vote for Amendment 4, which will reduce taxes on solar and lower the cost of energy. Amendment 4 will exempt solar panels and other solar equipment from real property and tangible personal property taxes. If passed, the amendment will make solar power more affordable in the state, while also creating jobs and improving solar power infrastructure. Learn more about the pro-solar Amendment 4 at yeson4.org.
  • November General Election: Environmentally conscious Floridians are fighting against an amendment backed by utility companies such as Gulf Power, FPL, and Tampa Electric, which, according to Floridians for Solar Choice, “was created to maintain solar’s status quo in Florida and confuse voters.” Essentially, the bill would continue to give utility companies a monopoly over the sale of solar and lays the groundwork for levying financial penalties on Florida solar customers such as increased fees and potentially rolling back existing net metering policies.
  •  Ongoing: Floridians for Solar Choice (FSC) – a citizen led initiative – attempted to place an amendment on the 2016 ballot to open up Florida to third party sale but was thwarted by a  campaign by big power companies. FSC is still collecting petition signatures to have it placed on the 2018 ballot. Interested Floridians can download, sign, and submit the petition to let their legislators know this is an important issue to them.
  • Next legislative session: Expect an attack on net-metering.

Florida has a long way to go when it comes to making solar power accessible for the everyday consumer, so it’s key for citizens to stay informed and aware of the policies being discussed and voted on. Your involvement makes a difference.  You can learn more and sign up to vote by mail at floridasolarvoter.com

If you live in Florida, it is essential that you vote in August and November, as your voice will help determine the future of solar power in the state. Stay in-the-know about various happenings in the solar industry, as you’ll be better equipped to get involved and make a difference.

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