Florida Solar in Doldrums as Lawmakers Coddle Utilities

solar_cells_home_roof_219433Despite a promising start in the 1930s when solar water heaters graced many homes, Florida has a dismal record when it comes to adopting solar power.

It sounds hopeful to write that the Sunshine State does have three solar plants up and running, including a next generation hybrid plant that runs on both solar and cleaner burning natural gas.

But so much more could be done because there is so much potential.

“Although Florida has the best solar potential east of the Mississippi and the third largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation, the state ranked only 18th for solar PV installation in 2013,” according a report by WCTV in Florida. 

Florida lags way behind states with grey skies, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts. Fifty billion dollars is burnt up each year by Florida to purchase coal, natural gas, and gasoline. Meanwhile the state has a record of rejecting renewable energy plans and the big utilities are the only ones that can sell power. Solar companies may only sell at wholesale rates to utilities.

Add to the picture low electricity prices and the huge start up costs associated with solar power, and you have dismal results. Solar companies are now considering leasing equipment to businesses and we can only hope that this will catch on and include residential customers.

Many thousands of Floridians live in RVs or some type of manufactured home. It takes only a short ride anywhere in the state to see the many trailer parks. Go across an overpass and the flat, white roofs stretch right across the horizon. An ideal spot for solar installations. As boomers join the older snowbirds, a solar panel or two will become more and more appealing. Demand peaks in the summer for air conditioning, but winter needs often include running a heater for a few hours a day.

Republican Governor Rick Scott, fighting for his political life in the upcoming election in November, was heard bragging about his strong environmental record at a recent campaign event. Too bad it wasn’t true; journalists quickly punched holes in this assertion by hauling out the record of the many cutbacks taken while he was in office. Ironically, it seems obvious a well thought out plan for solar would go along way to ensure his reelection.

Although approved by the senate, a Florida bill giving tax breaks to businesses who install solar panels is not likely to come to pass. Roof top solar is viewed as a threat to the electrical utilities but if the vote came before a Florida resident, the vote would be overwhelmingly in favour of solar initiatives, according to recent polls.

Over three million dollars has already been spent on campaign contributions in this election cycle so far by the utilities. What does this mean to the environmentally conscious home owner? Well, ask Robin Speronis. She has been charged with living off the grid, which is illegal in the state. After a year and a half keeping house with a camp stove, rain water and solar energy, she has been ordered to to hook back up to the city utility.

In contrast, two young students living in London, Ontario became somewhat of a cause célèbre when they spent the summer under similar conditions. I am sure they did not make it through the interminable Ontario winter, but they got local TV and newspaper coverage for their experiment.

Let us hope that Florida politicians don’t take this issue as seriously as in close by Texas. Swat teams were sent in to intimidate the Garden of Eden Community, holding members at gunpoint and putting them in handcuffs. Apparently there were no laws against off grid life, and no drugs or guns were found. At the end of the day, they enforced a few city code violations and assorted traffic violations. Not exactly good use of manpower or tax payer funds!

Instead arresting and intimidating homeowners, wouldn’t it be more sensible for politicians in Florida to begin harnessing the sun instead of the deep pockets of the utilities?





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