Solar Power and Florida – Potential, Problems, and Progress

Living in the Sun and Feeling the Heat

Here we are in Miami Shores, where the village motto is VIVENTES IN SOLE – literally, living in the sun.  And we’re not taking advantage of it!  Well, some of you already are – thank you – but this is something we need to do in much greater numbers – for both ourselves and our children – if we want to leave a world humans can continue to live, love, and learn – to flourish – for many generations to come.

One of the most impactful things we can do right now to reduce our carbon footprint is to use solar power to meet our electricity needs.  We have to attack this problem on multiple fronts – we’ve already baked in enough future sea level rise that we’re going to have to make enormous and imaginative infrastructure investment for years to come – but we also need to act now to begin to contain and reduce the amount of heat-trapping gasses we have in the atmosphere.  Here’s a conservative estimate of how the projected sea level rise will impact our neighborhood by 2050 – just a few years over 30 years from now –  if we don’t do anything at all (from NOAA at https://coast.noaa.gov):

You can access the tool that created this map here.

Those light blue areas are under water in this scenario.  Here in Miami Shores, we already have a pump that helps to keep that little area where 93rd street just about reaches the bay; we are also about to build a sea wall on the little spur canal you see pouring over into the neighborhood between the canal and 107th street.  Now imagine king tides, heavy rains, storm surges – or, all three at the same time.  We’ve got some work to do.

Florida is not taking advantage of its solar power potential – that is clear:

2017 United States Solar Power Rankings

Florida is the most baffling of all the states when it comes to solar. It’s literally called “The Sunshine State,” yet it bans third-party solar (PPAs), and was this year subjected to a shameful, misleading solar ballot initiative put forth by a utility-backed political group. Thankfully, that measure was defeated. Hopefully, Florida voters have been awakened to the shenanigans going on in their state’s energy markets. We really hope you figure this one out, Floridians, and stop big utilities from building fossil fuel plants on your dime while denying you the most basic of low-cost solar choice. Kick out those legislators and demand that the Sunshine State not be in the bottom half of the country for solar policy.

So what is a PPA, anyway?  A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) can be described as an agreement where “an installer/developer builds a solar system on a customer’s property for free and then the developer sells the power to the customer.”  Politifact Florida explains it in this write up.  Here’s an excerpt:

While solar has been expanding nationally, Florida isn’t a solar leader: it ranks third in solar capacity but 13th in installations, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar represents less than 1 percent of Florida’s energy generation, and the state projects only a tiny fraction of percentage growth over the next decade [emphasis added].

In November, the Public Service Commission approved allowing utilities to end solar rebates in 2015 and gut energy efficiency goals by 90 percent, because the utilities claimed neither is “cost-effective.”

This guide from Broward County explains why local government here in South Florida is typically in favor of PPAs:

The advantage of a PPA is that it allows the property owner to obtain renewable energy without paying the up-front costs associated with PV or worrying about maintenance of the system.  The relationship is analogous to leasing a car in which someone else owns and maintains the vehicle, and you only pay for the miles that you actually drive.

Florida law currently prohibits anyone other than an investor-owned or publicly-owned utility from selling electricity to customers, which prevents the use of Power Purchase Agreements.

Some progress:

Fortunately for us all, Amendment 1 was not passed last year.  However, the other solar power related ballot initiative did pass, as summarized in this headline from the Floridians for Solar Choice PAC web site:  Pro Solar Amendment 4 Signed Into Law by Governor Scott.  That’s where the “A” in the property tax exemption from the above scorecard comes from:

Tallahassee, Fla. (June 16, 2017)  – Today Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law implementing legislation for the pro-solar Amendment 4, which was unanimously placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature in 2016, passed overwhelmingly by 73% of the vote on the August 2016 primary ballot and now unanimously approved in the recently concluded session. The bill removes burdensome taxes on solar installations by exempting 80% of their value from the tangible personal property tax. It also exempts 80% of the value of a solar installation from the assessment of real property taxes for commercial properties.

Going Solar at Home

I’m personally currently in the process of re-roofing my house (just signed a contract), after which we’re going to install a solar power system on top of.  We’re planning in install a system that will create a net power usage of zero – we’ll be drawing power from the utilities at night and on cloudy days, but I’m expecting that we’ll generate an excess of power during sunny days that will make up for that based on the design specifications.

It’s a small start, but I sincerely hope more and more of our neighbors, both here in Miami Shores, and across South Florida, begin tapping the solar power potential that our beautiful sun provides us with in such abundance.

Ygrene is one way to go if you need help financing a solar power solution for your home – click here to learn more about Ygrene and how this program may be a good fit for you.  Ygrene financing is funded through the Miami-Dade Green Corridor PACE District (click here for more info).

I’m going to share my experience with the solar power system – from permitting, to installation, to utilization – on this blog as we get started.  It’s time to start a wider discussion on solar power and our future – now.  We’re going to face an incredible array of challenges as we head into the next several decades; we should embrace solar power now when the economy of doing so is so clear.  The solutions available today already have short payback periods, and there are widely available financing options and large tax credits – when you factor in the costs of *not* taking action now, I think it’s an easy choice.

Much, much more to come!