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solar power in Florida
Graphic provided by Florida Municipal Solar Project

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Solar Power In Florida

Many renewable energy endeavors in Florida are slow to catch on. Thanks to utility investments in clean energy and other recent developments, though, significant solar growth may be on the horizon in the Sunshine State.

As early as 1976, the Florida Legislature recognized that trends were pointing to the fact that the state energy consumption would increase sixfold by the year 2000. Known as the Solar Energy Standards Act of 1976, the resulting legislation was intended to provide incentives for the production and sale of, and to set standards for, solar energy systems to offset costs of fossils fuels. The Florida Legislature and the Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB) established the scope of work for solar contractors and set the stage for solar power in Florida to expand.

Fast forward to 2022. Solar makes a lot of power brokers in Florida very nervous. So — doncha know? — Senate Bill 1024, regarding Renewable Energy Generation, sought to authorize…

“… certain entities to prohibit the installation of solar collectors under certain circumstances; revising and providing legislative findings relating to the redesign of net metering to avoid cross-subsidization of electric service costs between classes of ratepayers; providing the terms for public utility net metering programs after a specified date; providing conditions under which rulemaking must be initiated if the penetration rate of customer-owned or -leased renewable generation meets a specified threshold, etc.”

The last action was March, 2022, where it was “laid on table” — not dead, not approved. As my colleague, Steve Hanley, put it, solar pursuits can continue on along with the other “commie pinko things a responsible government might take to actually address the challenge of a warming planet.”

Florida’s solar policies have lagged behind other states, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). It has no renewable portfolio standard — more than half of all US states have some type of renewable energy standard or goal in place. Florida does not allow power purchase agreements — under a PPA, the customer pays for the electricity generated by the solar system at an agreed-upon rate. These two policies have driven investments in solar in other states.

All is not lost for solar power in Florida, however. In 2021, Florida surpassed North Carolina to become third in the nation in total solar power generating capacity, after California and Texas. Utility investments in clean energy as well as other recent developments have the potential to lead to more solar market growth. The Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FlaSEIA) is a non-profit trade association that’s been in existence since 1977, protecting and promoting the interests of the solar energy industry in Florida.

Sample Projects: Solar Power in Florida

In Florida, not all individuals are able to install solar panels. Finances hold some people back; site availability, such as condos or heavily shaded areas, is a significant detriment. That is why the idea of community solar or shared renewables is taking hold in the state of Florida.

Community solar is a newer concept that helps people who can’t install solar panels (such as due to an imperfect roof or if they’re renters) get some of the savings benefits that come with solar. Rather than being installed on a home, a community solar installation is a subscription-based large-scale solar system that allows individuals to receive a portion of the energy output from the system that’s roughly equal to their annual usage. The subscription offsets their energy bill and usually costs a little bit less than they would have paid without solar. Unfortunately, there is nothing in Florida law that allows for a community solar program.

Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) is a wholesale power agency owned by municipal electric utilities. They say that their customers want clean energy, but the cost of electricity is important in Florida where power use is higher than the national average and incomes are lower than average. Florida residents pay an average of $29,095 or $20,366 after the 30% federal solar tax credit is applied. For FMPA to reduce their carbon emissions by 50% from 2005 levels, they will need to eliminate coal-fired generation and increase solar power generation through community solar farms like those in the Florida Municipal Solar Project.

FMPA’s Florida Municipal Solar Project is a joint project of 16 municipal electric utilities. It is one of the largest municipal-backed solar projects in the United States with approximately 1.5 million solar panels that will be installed at five sites.

The project will consist of 4 solar farms that will generate nearly 300 megawatts of zero-emissions energy, enough to power approximately 60,000 Florida homes. Each site will generate between 74.5 and 74.9 megawatts. The first two solar sites came online in June 2020, providing power to six of the participating cities. The two other solar sites are scheduled to come online by the end of 2024.

Then there’s FPL SolarNow. For $9 per month, or about 30 cents a day, eligible Floridians can become part of the solar experience. They’ll enroll in the FPL SolarNow program, and the fee will be added to each monthly FPL bill. Funds designated for FPL SolarNow will go toward the operation and maintenance of solar energy projects in local public areas, such as parks, zoos, schools, and museums. FPL will operate and maintain these solar projects. Clean, renewable energy generated from these projects is fed to the energy grid and benefits the entire community.

FLP is a way for interested individuals to get up to 100% of energy from solar. They pay a fixed monthly subscription charge and immediately start receiving bill credits. Over time, credits will be more than the monthly charge, lowering their bill. Subscriptions may only be purchased in 1 kW increments. The subscription charge will not change while participants are in the program, and they’ll get bill credits for their share of the solar energy generated at the FPL SolarTogether solar energy centers.

Final Thoughts about Solar Power in Florida

This article is only a brief overview. Want to know more? Danny Parker, after 30 years working at the Florida Solar Energy Center studying energy efficiency and solar energy, wrote a thorough exploration of solar power in Florida in 2020 for CleanTechnica. It digs deeply into the policies and problems of solar power in Florida, which are driven by utilities with one core objective — making money.

In the 93-page report, Parker examines the matter of solar energy resources and hurricanes in the Sunshine State and then takes a look at rooftop solar power potential, electricity costs, and average energy usage of Florida homeowners.

UPDATE: We reached out to FMPA for a comment, and received the following information from their representative, Ryan Dumas:

“FMPA is a wholesale provider.

“I live in Fort Pierce, and they’re part of our solar program. It’s an affordable way to get solar… If a retail customer wants to have rooftop solar, we don’t discourage it. But the best way is to join into the utility program that FMPA provides.

“We can’t control where the electrons go. Whether it’s solar, natural gas, nuclear, solar — it all goes into the grid… FPUA chose to join in the solar project, to partner with other municipal communities, to meet their load and get some solar.

“Some communities get solar subscriptions…. Maybe they don’t want the cost and maintenance of rooftop solar. So they can decide if they want 100% or 50% or 25% solar. They pay extra. That cost varies from utility to utility. This subscription program is not currently available in Fort Pierce.

Individual people in Florida who’d like to buy into solar should contact their local utility.”

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