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Rob Sargent,
Environment America

Sunshine State Lags Behind Leading Solar States, Ranking 16th in Solar Per Capita Gainesville is a Bright Spot

Immediate Release

Tallahassee, Fla. – Environment Florida Research & Policy Center released Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States, a new report highlighting a solar energy boom across the country. The report outlines the 12 states with the most solar per capita.  Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida ranks only 16th in the nation for per capita solar installed through 2012. Last year, solar capacity in Florida grew by 13% bringing it to a total of 186 megawatts through the end of 2012. 

Even though Florida still trails behind leading solar states, the report points out how the city of Gainesville is an exception.

“Gainesville accounts for only 0.6 percent of Florida’s population, but the city accounts for 8.1 percent of the state’s total installed solar energy capacity,” said Peyton Allen, with Environment Florida. “Gainesville is a bright light in Florida’s solar future. The city is a great example of how local policies can help move state action and national action towards pollution-free solar energy”.

In 2009, Gainesville Regional Utilities became the first U.S. municipal utility to adopt a true feed-in-tariff that allows businesses and homeowners to put solar on their roofs and sell it back at a rate that allows a good return on investment.  Other municipal utilities; including; Ft. Collins, Colorado; Palo Alto, California; Long Island, New York; and Los Angeles, California have followed Gainesville’s lead.

“Gainesville’s progress on solar is due to the right combination of citizen support, a forward-thinking utility staff, and an historically strong commitment by elected leaders to smart energy policy that recognizes that clean energy creates jobs,” said Pegeen Hanrahan; who was Mayor of Gainesville when Gainesville Regional Utilities adopted the feed-in-tariff.  “This policy is responsible for the vast majority of installed renewable energy internationally. I am hoping the experience in Gainesville and in these other communities serves as a good model for other utilities across the country,”

“Today, the Solar Electric Power Association puts Gainesville at #8 in installed solar per capita in the United States. All the places ahead of us have strong state incentives or requirements to install solar, and Florida does not. It is a missed opportunity in the Sunshine State. Since Gainesville led the way in 2009, many other communities have also adopted FIT or CLEAN (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) programs: Ft. Collins, Colorado, Palo Alto, California, Long Island, New York and Los Angeles, California now have utility solar policies that follow this model. FIT/CLEAN policies are responsible for the vast majority of installed renewable energy internationally. I am hoping the experience in Gainesville and in these other communities serves as a good model for utilities across the country,” said Hanrahan.

“Gainesville Regional Utilities,(GRU) is pleased with the success we have seen with our solar programs. Since the implementation of the FIT program we have seen great growth in all of our solar programs,” said Rachel Meeks, Business Efficiency Program Coordinator at Gainesville Regional Utilities.

Solar is on the rise across the country. America has more than three times as much solar photovoltaic capacity as it did in 2010, and more than 10 times as much as it did in 2007. Environment Florida attributed the solar boom to the leadership of state officials, especially those in states profiled in the report.

“More and more, homes and businesses are turning to solar as a pollution-free energy source with no fuel costs,” said Allen. “With the increasing threat of global warming, Florida must become a leading solar state.”

As the fourth most populous state, it ranks 11th in the nation on total solar capacity.  But it lags behind much smaller states including Massachusetts and New Jersey.   While there is some notable progress on solar in Florida including a number of relatively large solar installations including Florida Power and Light’s Martin Next Energy Center; a 75 MW concentrating solar facility and the DeSoto Next Energy Center; a 25 MW facility completed by sunpower. The report indentifies Florida as lacking many of the policies that have helped solar flourish in other states. 

“Florida is an underachiever when it comes to solar,” said Charlie Coggeshall, Renewable Energy Manager, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.  “While some utilities have programs, such as net metering, that provide a good foundation, clear deficiencies in state-level energy policy have inhibited Florida’s solar industry and national and regional standing. Fortunately, local governments like Gainesville are not waiting for the state and are instead demonstrating leadership within their own jurisdictions. As more local governments and surrounding states - such as North Carolina and Georgia – continue to embrace solar energy as an economic and environmental asset we hope Florida will rise to their potential as a solar leader.”

The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.

States profiled in the report include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont.

While these 12 states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar energy.

The report highlights the strong policies adopted by the top solar states that encourage homeowners and businesses to “go solar.” Most notably:

  • Eleven of the 12 have strong net metering policies, which allow customers to offset their electric bills with onsite solar and receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid.
  • Eleven of the 12 states have renewable electricity standards, requiring utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources; and nine of them have solar carve outs, which set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean onsite power.
  • Ten of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies. Interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • The majority of the top solar states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

Environment Florida was joined by Florida Solar Energy Industries Association in releasing the report.

“There is no reason why we cannot follow the path established by the top solar states to create vigorous markets for solar energy here in Florida. We will reap the benefits of major economic development attracting high-tech renewable/clean industries, bringing in private investment capital along with tens of thousands of new jobs. Cleaner air and reductions of climate change and global warming pollution from fossil fuel use,” Florida presently imports all of its energy and 63% is natural gas from Texas starting in hurricane alley, the exported capital we send out of Florida is $65 billion per year! This includes coal purchases, we need to reduce this amount of capital leaving our state and invest in renewable-solar energy and energy efficiency. Florida home grown energy it’s our most abundant resource,” stated Wayne Wallace president of Florida Solar Energy Industries Association (FlaSEIA).

“Right now only a small fraction of our energy comes from solar. Florida is the Sunshine State, and with more than 300 days of sun every year, we have the potential to power  -millions of homes with solar energy,” concluded Allen. “By setting bold goals of getting 10 percent of our energy from the sun by 2030 and adopting strong policies to back up that goal, Florida can follow in the footsteps of the top solar states and start paving the way for the rest of the country. In order to achieve this goal, we need the commitment from our state leaders to enable policies that will grow solar development in Florida.”