Florida utilities say solar doesn’t work in the sunshine state, but it sure does in georgia youtube electricity


While Florida energy policy impedes solar power development, Georgia promotes it: The Peach State, with a population half that of its neighbor to the south, expects to reach 900 megawatts of solar power generation by the end of 2016, almost twice Florida’s projected total by that time.

"Georgia is going to wind up being a state that everyone looks toward," said Ken Johnson, a vice president and spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C. He said the reason why Georgia is emerging as a solar-power leader is that regulators and utilities have embraced solar as part of the solution for energy demand rather than rejecting it as not cost-effective.

Duke Energy Florida, Tampa Electric and Florida Power & Light further assert that solar, rooftop solar in particular, mostly benefits the well-off (who can pay the substantial upfront costs) while forcing the poor and many in the middle class to bear the burden of maintaining the power lines and power plants.

That’s why Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would reduce the taxes on solar power systems for businesses that install them at their facilities. Solar interests say those taxes have made it difficult for the industry to make a profit and for other businesses to reap the full benefits of solar technology.

"The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy," Brandes said in announcing his bill. "This legislation is designed to remove barriers to businesses so that they can enter this growing renewable energy market. Reducing burdensome taxes is a key component to fostering the solar energy market in Florida."

Under the Florida Constitution, only utilities can sell directly to consumers. That means landlords of a shopping mall or even residential landlords who have installed solar panels on the roofs of their properties cannot sell the electricity to their tenants.

McDonald led the charge on solar, in part because he has said he wants his grandchildren to see trees. But most significantly, McDonald said, Georgia will reach 900 megawatts of solar by the end of next year and "without upward pressure on consumer rates."

Then, in 2012, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative. The state’s largest utility, Georgia Power, designed two programs to allow homeowners and businesses to sell energy from solar generators to the company as well as large-scale solar developers to enter into power-purchase agreements.

Economist Mark Cooper argues that Florida has for the past decade miscalculated the direction of the electricity market. Cooper is a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School who warned regulators that the state’s nuclear strategy was not economically feasible.

The solar price reflects the benefit of a 30 percent federal tax credit that drops to 10 percent at the end of 2016. But, for now, it brings new solar on par with the cost of new natural gas facilities, and half the per-kilowatt-hour cost of new nuclear plants, Cooper said.

"Florida is in transition from programs that are not cost-effective to exploring solar program options that will benefit all customers," Muir said. "The Florida Public Service Commission is working with all the stakeholders to develop a strategy to promote solar effectively at a reasonable cost. It takes time, but the PSC has committed to get it done."

Meanwhile, Duke Energy, which has little solar presence in Florida, has put its plans for a modest community solar project on hold. Tampa Electric is developing a 2-megawatt solar array at Tampa International Airport that will come online at the end of the year.

Even after announcing plans to increase its solar generation capacity by 225 megawatts by the end of next year, FPL said last week that "solar power — even the most economical large-scale installation — is generally not yet cost-effective in FPL’s service area."