South Miami Mayor Goes Big on Solar and Bill Savings

Guest Blog | June 24, 2014 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Solar, Utilities

This Guest Blog is courtesy of Philip Stoddard, Mayor of South Miami.

I am trying to envision my first $7 electric bill from FPL.  For years I’ve watched the prices drop on photovoltaic panels.  Solar hit “grid parity” last year, meaning that installing new solar power had become as cheap as buying power from the existing energy grid, at the industrial scale anyway.  Residential rooftop is necessarily less economical.  But how much?  I found a company that installs rooftop solar for $2.25 per watt using high-end American and German hardware with the longest factory warranties.  Subtract the 30% federal tax credit, and that comes to $1.57 per installed watt.  Over the expected life of the array, accounting for capital costs and depreciation, our effective electric rate would average 70% of what we are currently paying FPL.  Gee.

Energy efficiency, of course, is the cheapest power, but we already bagged most of those savings over the course of various house repairs.  We installed a solar hot water heater years ago when I figured out how much hot water teenage girls consume washing their hair.  Two summers back, we installed energy-efficient glass doors.  Last summer we installed a reflective metal roof, a foot of attic insulation, and two light tubes that pour sunlight into the middle of our house (a houseguest spent 20 minutes looking for the light switch to turn them off).  I’m gradually replacing my compact fluorescents with LED lighting.  I drive a Prius; unless I generate my charging power from the sun, the Prius edges out the Nissan Leaf EV in low carbon emissions per mile.  Geothermal AC is not yet cost effective for a house the size of ours, but I’m keeping my eye on it for when our AC needs replacing.

Maybe the time for solar on our roof had finally arrived.

I compared the cost of rooftop solar with FPL’s latest offer for customers to pay them $120 extra every year for renewable power.  Pay them extra?  Huh?  Georgia Power, a big coal burner, bid out new power and found that photovoltaic was the cheapest new power they could install.  So Georgia Power is installing 800 megawatts of PV.  In 2013 FPL generated only 1/7th of 1% of its power from the sun while pushing forward to install new nuclear plants at Turkey Point, the most expensive (and therefore most profitable) form of power a utility could install.  Gov. Scott recently gave the green light to FPL’s nuclear plan after his re-election campaign received half a million dollars from FPL and despite 93% of the citizens writing in expressed their opposition to the plan.

Then there’s the peer pressure.  The mayors of two nearby municipalities, Cutler Bay and Pinecrest, recently put PV arrays on their houses.  South Miami can’t fall behind its neighbors!

So, at the end of May, my wife and I signed the contract to install our dream – a photovoltaic solar array with enough panels to null out what remains of our electric bill and some extra for a future EV.  We’ll have microinverters along the bottom tier where the tree shadows dance, and a Sunny Boy grid-tie inverter on the upper tier that provides 1500 watts of plug-in power when the grid is down and the sun is up.  Although Florida has eliminated all solar incentive programs, Florida’s net-metering law allows customers to trade electricity with the utility – our meter will runs backwards while the array generates more power than our house consumes.  At the end of the year, the utility will pay wholesale rate (pittance) for any surplus power we have generated.  We’ll still pay about $7 a month for connection fees and the right to trade electricity with the evil empire.  Interest rates are still low, and we can even use the Green Corridor PACE program and pay it on our property tax bill.  We will help lower Florida’s carbon emissions while locking in long-term savings – nothing not to like in that.  I figure when the price of storage drops or when the utilities kill the net-metering law, we’ll go off the grid entirely.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to that $7 electric bill.

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