South Miami

South Miami mayor, commission: Floridians should have greater choices to buy solar energy

South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard pays a monthly electric bill of $9.08 and still is able to power his home and electric car, with juice to spare. The shocking savings is a direct result of the solar panels on his rooftop that he had installed last August.

On March 17, the South Miami city commission unanimously passed a Stoddard-sponsored resolution in support of removing barriers to customer-sited solar power and support for the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot petition.

Currently, it is illegal for people in Florida to sell sun-generated electricity directly to other consumers.

“It’s going to be important to residents of the whole area,” Stoddard said. “What we are doing is getting a group solar RFP so that people can get solar panels at a competitive price. The city is engaging in competitive price comparisons so that the residents don’t have to. That means if you want to get solar panels on your house, you don’t have to go out and compare pricing from all of the different vendors. We’ve done the work for you.”

Solar power generates electricity without air emissions or water use. Florida has nine million electric utility customer accounts but only 6,000 customer-sited solar systems. For comparison, New Jersey has more than 30,000 customer-sited solar systems, but half of Florida’s population.

Florida is one of five states that legally deny citizens and business the right to buy solar power electricity directly from someone other than a power company.

The resolution urges the Florida legislature to remove the barrier that limits the sale of solar-generated electricity directly to a customer by anyone other than a power company, and alternatively supports the Floridians for Solar Choice ballot petition to amend the Florida Constitution to remove the barrier to customer-sited solar power.

Floridians for Solar Choice is a nonprofit corporation founded by Tory Perfetti. Last month, the Fort Lauderdale-based coalition won approval of a petition for circulation. The petition needs 683,149 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to get the issue on the 2016 election ballot. Perfetti, a Tampa Republican, is also the head of Conservatives for Energy Freedom.

“It is absolutely important that individual communities are starting to participate in the way that their individual citizens, all over the state, and business community have responded in such a positive way in support of the Floridians for solar choice ballot initiative,” Perfetti said. “It’s important across the board for cities and municipalities, counties, businesses and citizens alike to be involved in where the future of energy is going to be in Florida.”

The cause has many parties behind it, including the Christian Coalition, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Florida Retail Federation, as well as Libertarian Party and Tea Party members.

“Right now the incentive is very little for solar companies to participate more heavily in the business or currently under the law,” Perfetti said. “If you can’t afford to take direct ownership and write a check for the solar installation panels, they aren’t going to come install that and front the cost. Of course you can’t buy energy from the solar company right now. You can’t buy it directly. Only right now you can buy energy through what is defined as a ‘government sponsored’ utility.”

Opposition could come from utility companies like Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric.

A Florida Power & Light spokesman declined to comment at this time.

“We are seeing oppositions from the individuals that we expected,” Perfetti said. “We are receiving opposition from the utility companies and people on that side of it. But we are seeing much more overwhelming support that is coming from the business community. ... It is a multipartisan and pro-business grouping of support. We have over 100,000 signatures we collected in just over a month, which shows major support from the citizen population. We have had overwhelming support from the citizens.”

Perfetti said some of the biggest opposition to the cause is coming from the conservative political advocacy organization, Americans For Prosperity (AFP).

“The unique thing is that they haven’t actually come out against the amendment,” Perfetti said. “They simply have come out and said that solar cannot survive without subsidies. The interesting part is that all of the opposition that we have received from such a small group of well-financed opponents isn’t talking about what the amendment does. They are just talking about what are currently non-legitimate statements.”

Stoddard said solar panels offer his family between 6 percent and 8 percent return on investment. He said all of the vendors from the RFP would be preapproved by Ygrene Energy Fund.

“All of the vendors will be preapproved … so that you can get Ygrene financing if you want or you can finance it anyway you please,” Stoddard said. “But the pricing will also be made available to other residents in the Miami Green Corridor cities and municipalities in addition to South Miami.”

The mayor then offered an explanation for why utility companies err on the side of traditional power sources.

“The monopoly utilities want to retain a monopoly,” Stoddard said. “Solar power has become cheap. They want to make more money so they are trying to stifle solar. Nuclear is incredibly expensive but they make more money on it. They get paid on the value of their infrastructure.”

By cutting out the middleman, installers can save money and time, according to Stoddard.

“We just use group buying power,” Stoddard said. “It benefits the solar installers because they don’t have to spend their time looking for customers. Typically a third of their expense is going out looking for customers. If we could deliver them 30, 50 or 100 orders it makes their business easier and they can pass along some of those savings back to the residents.”

The petition can be downloaded and signed at www.flsolarchoice.org/sign-the-petition. The petition is currently under Supreme Court review, after surpassing 72,000 signatures.

“The amendment has noting to do if someone is going to have a successful solar purchase or not,” Perfetti said. “This just gives you the option. This doesn’t mandate that you buy solar. This does not say anything anywhere in the ballot amendment about subsidies. It does not increase taxes or shift funds. It is a net-net win because it mandates nothing but it gives you the option to conduct commerce just like anything else that we buy or exchange goods and services for. So any opposition we have received is not talking about the ballot. It is attempting to misdirect people into just talking about solar.”

Anyone who installs Energy Star-approved solar-power systems before the end of 2016 is eligible to claim 30 percent of the cost as a tax credit for the year it was installed.

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