Solar Power Gets Stonewalled in the Sunshine State
The utilization of solar power can prove to be an extremely important and substantial contribution to the green-energy movement in our fair state. The benefits are obvious: generate energy without waste, pollution or dependence on the Earth’s natural resources; reduction of damaging fossil fuel emissions; easy to maintain; and reduction (or elimination) of those ever-increasing utility bills. This last benefit, of course, creates a bit of a problem for the investor-owned utility companies (“IOU’s”) that generate massive profits from natural gas and coal. This “problem” creates a political climate, which pits the IOU’s against the green-energy programs that have been struggling to flourish. These green-energy programs should have flourished ages ago… we are, in fact, the Sunshine State, right?
On a national level, solar power is gaining momentum and starting to compete, economically, with coal and gas. The Obama administration has aided in the reduction of the price of solar panels, which are now 80% less than they were in 2009. In 2014 alone, the United States collectively brought online as much solar energy every three weeks as it did in all of 2008, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. Wondering why us residents aren’t feeling the solar energy growth in the State of Florida? It’s not just you. The Solar Energy Industries Association lists the “Top 10 Solar States in the Country” and Florida is nowhere on the list. That’s right – sadly, states such as Massachusetts and New York beat out Florida by a long shot. “It defies logic,” says former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. “It’s absolutely absurd.” This is predominantly due to failed legislative initiatives aimed at subsidizing the initial installation costs of solar panels, which runs approximately $10,000 to $15,000 – an expenditure that most Floridians cannot afford. IOUs have a direct interest preventing legislative reform, which would provide rebates, tax breaks and incentives to residents who shell out the initial cost for solar panel purchase and installation. And prevent legislative reform, they do.
Going back to basics, IOUs are governed by a board of directors and are state-regulated monopolies; they are for-profit corporations which serve the public. Capital is raised through stock sales, taxable bonds and through operating revenues. In order to protect their absolute monopolies and guaranteed revenues, these IOUs leverage their political power to box out the solar industry in Florida. Donations funneled to state political campaigns have kept pro-solar legislations from gaining traction in Tallahassee. “We in Florida are stuck in the stone age. This is probably the most byzantine energy legislation in the country,” said state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, a supporter of the rooftop solar industry.
It’s no surprise that IOUs rely heavily on flexing their political muscle. Green energy is a massive disrupter to traditional electric utility business and poses a triple threat: As reported by the Rolling Stone, “First: When homeowners install their own solar panels, it means the utilities build fewer power plants, and investors miss out on a chance to profit. Second: Solar homes buy less electricity from the grid; utilities lose out on recurring profits from power sales. Third: Under “net metering” laws, most utilities have to pay rooftop solar producers for the excess power they feed onto the grid. In short, rooftop solar transforms a utility’s traditional consumers into business rivals.”
What’s more, these efforts are not only being stymied by IOUs – they are asking for approval to hike electric rates by more than 24% to consumers over the next three years. The solar industry is hitting back: a campaign entitled Smart Solar is collecting signatures to place Amendment 1 on the ballot (700,000 are needed to qualify): “Amendment 1 helps those who choose solar by allowing state and local governments to pass commonsense consumer protection regulations, designed to prevent fraud, abuse and overcharging. Non-solar customers who use traditional energy are protected by these regulations and we think solar customers should be protected, too.” Amendment 1 is just one of many efforts being made by all sides of the political camps to get Florida out of the stone age.
So, Floridians, in honor of Earth Day, let’s take a moment to reflect on how our political climate is affecting our environmental climate. Only two states have more solar power potential than Florida (California and Texas), yet, sadly, we rank 16th in the nation. Despite Florida’s struggles with solar power advancement, programs do exist, which can provide incentives for those who choose to go solar. Log onto www.floridaenergycenter.org, a resource provided by University of Central Florida, to find out more.