How crazy is it that in the state of Florida, where sunny days are the norm for nearly 365 days a year, there is no viable rooftop solar business? As a recent article by Evan Halper in the LA Times pointed out, “….while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power.”
The simple reason is because power companies and regulators in Florida and other sun-heavy states like Virginia and South Carolina have consistently resisted creating incentives and regulations that would encourage solar development. In fact, those states have put rules in place that actively work to block it.
The rationale behind this resistance is not so simple. Many opponents argue that solar generation by homeowners and small solar arrays “takes away” from the ability of the utility companies to generate revenue that supports the cost of infrastructure and overhead. Others bemoan the fact that federal and state government rebates for solar create a false economy for the consumer. In some coal-producing states, the large-scale use of coal to fuel electricity generation sees solar as a threat to the local economy.
What can we learn from successful solar states like California, Massachusetts and Vermont?
Money Talks: The California Solar Initiative (CSI) offers solar customers different incentive levels based on the performance of their solar panels encouraging consumers to install clean solar energy systems that can provide maximum solar generation. They have rebate programs that target businesses, low-income households and multi-family affordable housing. According to the CSI program website, the program has a total budget of $2.167 billion between 2007 and 2016 and a goal to install approximately 1,940 MW of new solar generation capacity.
Targeting Communities Works: This year, the Solarize Upper Valley program in Vermont, in an initiative lead by Vital Communities, helped 120 homeowners across the rural Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire go solar. These results prove the effectiveness of the Solarize model, which has been successfully deployed in Massachusetts and Connecticut in recent years.
Sharing is powerful: In Vermont, flexible and convenient net metering regulations encourage communities, neighbors and businesses within the same utility service area to share the generation capacity from one solar array to the allocated benefit of all participants.
At the Energy Co-op of Vermont, we “think local” by offer a solar hot water heating program, Co-op Solar, that is designed to make solar simple and affordable for our members. Co-op Solar features deeply discounted solar hot water equipment supplied by Sunward Systems, a Vermont business. Further savings come from a new $1,600 Efficiency Vermont discount, a 30% federal tax credit and a state rebate. In total, Co-op Solar brings solar hot water installation costs down by about $5,000 for each installation – see www.co-opsolar.net/how-it-works/cost.
Just imagine how successful a program like Co-op Solar could do in Florida, if only the rules allowed!
John Quinney is the General Manager of the Energy Co-op of Vermont, (ECVT) a member-owned heating fuel delivery and energy efficiency co-op founded in 2001. ECVT provides energy and cost saving programs, heating oil, kerosene and wood pellet deliveries and heating equipment service, replacement and repair for over 2,500 households in northern Vermont.