With an average of 361 days of sunshine – not to mention a world-record setting 768 consecutive sunny days (thanks Guinness) – you’d think Florida would be a prime location for solar energy.
Not, apparently, if Florida’s big power companies have anything to say about it.
According to Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund, the utility companies don’t want you saving money with solar energy.
“This is how Tallahassee sort of works,” Glickman said at a panel discussion Wednesday. “We have terrible energy policy and the reason we do is because of the influence of the utilities and all of the money they get.”
The event, which the Center for Biological Diversity organized, took place at The Ale and the Witch and aimed to shed light on the complex politics of solar energy in Florida.
Before a crowd of like-minded environmentalists, Glickman spoke of the shortfalls Florida is facing regarding its energy policies.
“It’s not a good story, unfortunately,” Glickman said. “Florida is one of the states that doesn’t have a target for energy efficiency. No target for any renewable energy.”
Glickman pointed out Florida’s “over-reliance” on natural gas, which she said constitutes 62 percent of the energy the state consumes.
“Florida Power is the biggest utility in the state and they are 67 percent reliant on gas,” Glickman said. “This happens because of the influence of money.”
So, what would Glickman propose as the greatest solution? Solar energy, but according to her presentation, high prices and high taxes have been prohibitive to most who wish to use the Earth’s nearest star as energy.
According to a memo released by Tory Perfetti, the chairman of Floridians 4 Lower Energy Cost, taxes are one reason that Florida has nine million energy customers but fewer than 12,000 rooftop solar systems. By comparison, New Jersey has over 43,000 rooftop systems installed with half the population and less sun. So much for our title as the “Sunshine State”.
“The good news is, the cost of solar has gone down,” Glickman said. “Solar has come own 80 percent in the last six years.”
Another way to lower the cost of solar will be on the August 30 ballot. Amendment 4 will alleviate the tax burdens and allow property tax exemptions for people who install solar panels on their home or business. It will also allow the value of the solar panels to be exempt from property taxes, reducing tax burden and thus making solar cheaper.
Glickman stressed that Amendment 4 should not be confused with the utility-backed solar Amendment 1, which will be on the November ballot. (Editor's note: CL wrote about the utility-backed amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, last September. Glickman and others assert it's an effort to trick voters into reinforcing the status quo on solar, which favors utilities. Earlier this year, a pro-solar amendment, Floridians for Solar Choice, failed to get on the ballot.)
“The utility companies used [Amendment 1] to confuse people on the solar choice initiative,” Glickman said. “If you walk away with one thing today, vote ‘yes’ on 4 in August, and ‘no’ on 1 in November.”
Glickman was joined on stage by Emily Gorman of the Sierra Club and is working on the “St. Pete 100” campaign, which has the lofty goal of getting 100 cities across the country to use 100 percent renewable energy, including St. Petersburg.
Gorman stated that not only is clean energy important, but equally as important is energy efficiency.
“Updating our infrastructure so that every little bit of electricity that comes out of your power outlet is going to go just a little bit farther and every dollar you spend on your energy bill should go just a little bit farther” Gorman said.
Gorman will also be holding an information seminar on the St. Pete Solar Co-Op on July 28 and will be announcing the formation of the co-op on July 19 on the steps of St. Petersburg’s city hall.
For years, utility companies have been notorious for their focus on the bottom line, especially as the state agency that is supposed to regulate them only makes it easier for the status quo on fossil fuels to continue. The city of St. Petersburg has been at odds with Duke Energy for years about changing the city’s 30,000 street lights to more energy efficient LED lights. For years, Duke has fought that idea, not wanting to give the city a financial break for the reduction of electricity use. LED lights would save the city roughly $1.8 million, according to a 2013 article in the Tampa Bay Times.
Glickman and others say St. Petersburg and Florida is ready for solar, and Amendment 4's passage would only be the beginning of the state’s journey to clean energy, one that ought to begin in August.