St. Petersburg, FL– Jacksonville has more solar panels than most major American cities, ranking 16th among dozens of metropolitan areas analyzed in a new report, but advocates warn the city’s progress could change if the local utility moves forward with slashing net metering. Jacksonville’s ranking, the highest in Florida and Southeast U.S., is owed primarily to one large scale solar and nine contracted small 1-7 MW farms and gardens.
“Our report shows that Jacksonville really shines when it comes to solar power,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida, “But rolling back net metering would put this progress at risk and that’s a shame.”
Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix topped the list for most solar power in the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center analysis, Shining Cities 2016: How Smart Local Policies Are Expanding Solar Power in America.
Plummeting costs, increasing public concern over global warming, and technological innovation have all played a role in spurring the growth of solar energy, which last year was enough to power 5.4 million American homes.
The report found cities at the vanguard of the nation’s solar boom, with the top 20 solar cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – accounting for 6 percent of U.S. solar photovoltaic capacity at the end of 2015.
As population centers, cities are home to ample rooftop space and large electricity markets. Through power purchase agreements, promoting community solar programs, and installing solar on government property, city governments can play a leading role in developing solar energy
“We are thrilled that Jacksonville made the top 20 list for solar PV installed. As a local utility and 8th largest municipal utility in the U.S., we applaud JEA for its leadership in large scale utility and smaller 1-7 MW size solar farms and gardens systems”, said Sarah Boren, Director of Policy and Programs for the U.S. Green Building Council Florida Nonprofit Chapter. “To cement and advance its leadership on solar, it would be great to see JEA continue to invest in small customer rooftop solar and not move forward with its plans to cut its net metering rate by 30%. Jacksonville has only just begun to tap its solar energy potential, along with all the innovation and jobs that comes with it in a variety of sectors like green building, smart grids, small and large battery storage, and smart homes and buildings.”
While still only a fraction of a percentage of the city’s solar power, rooftop solar in Jacksonville doubled last year. According to researchers who examined solar power installations in 64 American cities in nearly every state, Jacksonville had enough solar capacity at the end of last year to power about 2,800 homes.
“Jacksonville's leaders need to decide whether or not they want to have a rooftop solar industry,” said Pete Wilking, owner of A1A Solar, a solar company based in Jacksonville. “If leaders allow incentives for solar, the industry will grow. If they provide penalties, it will shrink. Right now, there is neither an incentive nor a disincentive to go solar. We've been able to work well with that. If the proposed policy to slash net metering goes through, there will be a stick to disincentive solar on rooftops, which will effectively stop the natural growth of rooftop solar.”
On a solar-per-person basis, Jacksonville also scored well, ranking 21st behind Portland. For the second year in a row, Jacksonville easily beat Tampa, Orlando, and Miami in the analysis, which lagged well outside of the top 20 in both total and per-capita solar installed.
While solar power is growing throughout the nation, utility companies are campaigning intensely to increase fees for rooftop solar, which they see as a direct threat to their business model.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has also stalled the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration initiative to cap carbon pollution from power plants and provide incentives for clean energy like solar.
Environment Florida and other advocates urged cities to move forward with solar power development in spite of these attacks.
“Cities have been at the forefront of environmental change for decades,” said Rubiello. “And there’s no reason for them to stop now. The polluters can’t change the fact that solar power makes sense for our climate, our health, and our wallets.”
Environment Florida Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentFloridaCenter.org