Net-zero communities that make solar power work expand in florida electricity words


Martinez not only lives in a net-zero-energy home but in an entire community where solar panels provide at least some power to every home. Every garage in the Trilogy adult community 30 miles west of Orlando includes an electric charging station. Each home sports luxury amenities with prices that start at $172,990 and top out at $366,495.

Florida utility executives and state regulators portray rooftop solar as too much of a luxury to play a significant role in the state’s energy mix. In fact, regulators approved proposals by the utilities to gut their energy-efficiency goals and end solar rebates because they said neither is "cost-effective."

Now the utility industry also wants homes and businesses that use solar to pay more for a connection to the electric grid to help share the costs of power lines and big-box power plants. Significant increases in solar’s costs could erode the benefits Martinez and his neighbors enjoy.

Harnessing power from the sun has proved difficult in Florida as environmentalists, utilities and regulators debate the viability and cost of solar. Florida now trails such states as New Jersey and North Carolina. And Georgia is set to eclipse the Sunshine State in its solar deployment.

Because solar panels generate electricity during the day and produce lower amounts of electricity when it is cloudy, capturing some of the power and storing it makes the technology more effective. But storage systems or "batteries" can be costly and inefficient.

Art Graham, chairman of the state Public Service Commission, said all customers paid for rebates that benefited just a few. He said that if solar comes from utilities rather than on homes, "you don’t have to have $30,000 to put it on your roof."

Net zero means the solar panels produce as much electricity as the home uses. Power from the panels goes to the electric grid, effectively causing the home’s meter to spin backward. The panels can generate more than a home uses, resulting in a credit.

The Edison Electric Institute, a utility industry organization, said states such as Florida passed net-metering laws at a time when solar was not as prolific as it is becoming. With the reduction in utility revenue, Edison Electric said, it will become more difficult for power companies to cover their expenses.

"Should current net-metering policies be updated? Yes," Edison Electric noted in a statement on the issue. "As rooftop solar and other … systems become more developed, net-metering policies and rate structures in many states should be updated so that everyone who uses the electric grid helps pay to maintain it and to keep it operating reliably."

Solar proponents have created an online petition to Graham and the PSC that reads: "Utilities around the country are trying to stop people with rooftop solar from receiving fair compensation for selling electricity back to the grid. I call on Chairman Graham to reject any attacks on rooftop solar and commit to keep the value of rooftop solar credits at full retail rates."

Martinez used to pay as much as $350 a month for electricity in smaller homes than he now has. He said he now dines at better restaurants and enjoys better cable services with the extra money he saves. "It does give you options," Martinez said. "For the first time in my life, I don’t have to worry about leaving the lights on. I don’t have to worry about the air conditioning being too high. I’m completely sold."