NewsPrice of Paradise


Wasted Sunshine: Solar advocates fight to make Florida the solar state

Can Fla. go from the Sunshine State to Solar State?
Solar Panels on a home in Hillsborough County.
Posted at 6:17 AM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 18:17:59-05

TAMPA, Fla. — When it comes to total solar energy produced, Florida lags behind California and Texas. And, despite abundant year-round sunshine, less than 1% of homes in Florida have rooftop solar.

Despite those stats, Florida's solar industry is growing exponentially and, in turn, creating jobs and saving homeowners serious cash off their electric bills.

"So, our energy bill right now is $15.44," Janet Stanko told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. Stanko recently installed 19 solar panels on her roof. "And what that means is, at present, we are generating as much or more electricity than what we use."

Solar United Neighbors, a national nonprofit, helped Stanko search for solar and hooked her up with her local Hillsborough County Solar Co-op.

"The co-op people did all the legwork," Stanko said. "They identified all the solar vendors, contractors in the area, invited them to bid on the co-op business. And a co-op is like joining with 25 or 50 of your neighbors to get an extra discount from the contractors. So, I didn't have to do all that technical evaluation. And that gave me the confidence to just move forward."

The way Stanko's electricity bill works is she pays some established fees to the utility. But, the energy she feeds back to the grid is matched one-for-one. That means the power company pays Stanko for the excess power provided to the grid at the same rate they charge other customers for energy usage. Think of it like rollover minutes. The more energy, the more credits Stanko builds against her power bill.

"When our system sends electricity to the grid, it goes to our nearby neighbors," Stanko said. "That means that there is less impact on the grid because it's not being sent across the county or to another county, and that's, that's a benefit to the utility."

Stanko doesn't have a battery system to store power. So, she uses electricity from the utility to continue powering her home at night.

Despite our motto, "The Sunshine State," Florida isn't the top solar powerhouse. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida ranks third in solar electric capacity, behind California and Texas. However, solar advocates say the recent growth could be impacted by proposed legislation that would change the way net metering works.

Florida Senator Jennifer Bradley filed SB 1024, a bill that would alter Florida's existing net metering program. Solar advocates tell Paluska if passed, it will be a rooftop solar killer.

"SB 1024 is a bill that would seek to end net metering," Heaven Campbell Florida Program Director for Solar United Neighbors said. "Net metering is really the backbone of solar energy and our whole system and industry here in Florida, which is the fastest-growing sustainable jobs industry in Florida. And, we think that it should be protected at all costs. There is a very low penetration of customer-owned solar in Florida right now; as a state, we're at less than 1%. So really, it's currently a non-issue. The bill would change the crediting. So it wouldn't be a one-to-one credit anymore. It would be a greatly reduced credit. And, it also has some other provisions that are just not customer friendly."

ABC Action News reached out to Bradley's office for comment but did not receive a response back.

If passed, the redesigned "net metering may include fixed charges, including base facilities charges, electric grid access fees, or monthly minimum bills, to help ensure that the public utility recovers the fixed costs of serving customers who engage in net metering and that the general body of public utility ratepayers does no subsidize customer-owned or -leased renewable generation," according to language in the bill.

Solar energy is becoming popular across the state, and adopters already feel like they are paying their fair share and, at the same time, providing clean power to their neighbors.

"Solar panels are fantastic for a sunny place," Matt Zebell installed solar panels on his Dunedin home. Zebell took advantage of tax credits and a rebate offered by the city.

"It helped a lot," Zebell said. "It's an expensive upfront cost. And for me, it was — I added panels because of the extra money that I knew they would be getting from Dunedin."

Dunedin is one of only a handful of cities that offer a rebate. The rebate will pay out a maximum of $2,500.

"You're helping residents, and you're helping business owners because you're taking that step as a city to say this is really what is important to us. And you're making that in a very financial statement as the city so I would love to see it on everyone's houses, on everyone's businesses," Natalie Gass, the Sustainability Program Coordinator for the City of Dunedin, said.

She continued, "We are benefiting from being a clean city being one that's focused on moving forward and sustainability, one that's focused on Environmental Quality, and really making sure that we are making a good future for the next generation, but also really protecting our residents today, here and now."

Click here for more information on the City of Dunedin's solar rebate program.

According to information provided by Solar United Neighbors, "the next Hillsborough County Solar Co-op should open later this Spring 2022, end of April early May, around Earth Day. So far, in Hillsborough County alone, Solar United Neighbors and our partners have helped 130 people install rooftop solar, 1.2 Megawatts, investing $2.8 million in the local economy, offsetting 17,976 Metric tons of CO2E over their system lifetime and created high-quality jobs and increasing home value. Those powerhouses are estimated to save $4.4 Million on their Electric bills over their 25-year lifespan."

As Tampa Bay continues to attract new residents and businesses, the impact of living in paradise comes at a cost for all of us— from the increasing cost of housing and infrastructure to utilities and insurance. ABC Action News is committed to helping you and your family make the most of your money and navigate through the Price of Paradise.