Thanks to a state Supreme Court verdict, Florida voters will finally have the opportunity to determine their solar energy fate in the 2016 election. The decision marks an important milestone that comes after a compelling effort that included organized resistance by fossil fuel energy providers and Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi.
For renewable energy advocates as well as those similar to solar wholesale distributors, Florida’s solar energy constraints have been puzzlingly nonsensical. In a state ripe with abundant solar, it has been a mysterious battle that seems to defy practicality and science and smacks of political insider mentality.
Supporters point to the state’s unusual affiliation with leading fossil fuel utility providers that coincidentally are significant contributors to the Republican Governor and his party of which Bondi is a member. In Florida, many utility consumers are forced to fund a Duke Energy nuclear power plant that remains unbuilt.
By any standard, Florida’s solar energy potential remains an untapped renewable resource. The state has effectively banned the availability of third party financing that would unlock solar energy for millions of residents.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Florida ranks third in the nation for solar energy potential. Unfortunately, the state ranks an inexcusable and indefensible 14th for installed solar energy capacity. Go figure!
• In a job hungry state, only 4,800 Floridians are employed in the industry. Imagine the employment if the state unleashed its full capability!
• 22 MW of solar electricity was installed in 2014, ranking the state an abysmal 20th in the US.
• With 251 MW already installed, Florida ranks 14th in the US with enough capacity to power just 29,000 home.
• $63 million was invested in solar energy in Florida in 2014.
• The cost of installed residential and commercial photovoltaic systems has fallen by 32% since 2014.
• The costs have fallen 53% since 2010.
Solar energy advocates say something smells in Denmark and stress that these figures do not make sense, environmentally, economically or practically. In a state tailor-made for solar energy, where are the solar panels?
Florida set high watermarks for advocates to bring the motion to put solar energy third party funding before the Supreme Court and the n on the ballot. The initiative was led by Floridians for Solar Choice who was required to obtain 68,314 voter signatures. Once the signatures were obtained, the Supreme Court reserved the right to approve the initiative language.
Now that the Supreme Court has approved the language, supporters of solar energy in Florida must obtain 683,149 voter signatures to ensure a place on the 2016 ballot.
Attorney General Bondi’s argument before the Florida Supreme Court centered around cited misleading language. Her position was that the state already had a solar energy policy. Bondi’s argument is that there are no barriers for solar and therefore no need to put third party funding on the ballot.
Florida’s solar advocates are resolute that the current law actually “prohibits customer choice and blocks the growth of this abundant, clean homegrown energy source.” If voters agree, Florida will have the ability to, “expand solar choice by allowing all customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar.”
Florida’s Clean Power Plan calls for the state to reduce emissions from fossil fuel power plants by 25% of the state’s 2005 level by 2030. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that Florida could meet its 2030 goal by increasing the presence of renewable energy to just 10% of the state’s electrical power mix.
Since 2008, Florida has added about 530MW of renewable energy, a mere fraction of the state’s solar energy potential. The current policy discourages such providers are SlingshotPower and SunRun who are anxious to help residential clients add the 5-6 kWh per square meter solar capacity that the National Renewable Energy lab says the state is capable of achieving.
State polls show strong support for solar energy and third party funding. The Republican polling firm, North Star Opinion Research, reports that 74 percent of Florida voters will support the solar ballot choice. 3 percent of those polled also favored the Clean Power Plan.
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