I met Larry Sinatra, a county government employee, at his suburban Tampa home. He was excited to hop onto the roof to show me his brand-new investment: a 9kW solar photovoltaic system he purchased with $20,000 from his savings, without any subsidies from the State of Florida.
Larry says the array is like a 401(K), and in fact it is a critical part of his retirement plan. He expects it to cut his bills from about $180 a month to less than $20. At the end of ten years, he will have paid off the solar panels, and his bills will still be close to zero – helping him stay comfortable on a fixed income. He’s already dropped his bills by $50 by getting a new air conditioner, a great example of energy efficiency.
“We were renovating and flipping houses, living in them for 3-5 years…. We finally found a house we really plan on staying in. We’re in our mid-forties. By the time we retire, hopefully the panels will have paid for themselves,” he says.
This arrangement is possible thanks to Florida’s net metering policy, which means that when Larry produces more electricity than he uses, his meter spins backward at the same rate it spins forward when he’s drawing power from the grid.
If that policy were compromised? “I’d have to work a few more years.”
I asked Larry what he’d say to someone who thinks solar is only for the rich. “Well, first I’d tell them I probably make exactly as much money as they do,” he grins. It’s true – Larry’s government salary is about as close to average as you get.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an environmentalist,” he says. “This is really about my bottom line. It’s great that it’s environmentally friendly, too.”
Larry, a native Floridan, first got interested in renewable energy when he saw land covered in wind turbines out a plane window on a trip to Spain. He started studying fuel prices and looking into solar and eventually decided it was for him.
“I see more people doing [solar] and I talk to a lot of people about it. They’re curious, they want to see pictures and power bills. But they get sticker shock. What if buying solar were more like buying a car? My panels cost less than a new car and will keep on generating power after 10-15 years, unlike a car. Or what if you could take savings from a 401(K) without penalty, like you can to buy a home?
“More people need to get involved with solar in Florida,” he concludes, “Because our sunny days are endless.”