Florida, Where Solar Power Dreams Go To Die

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A comparison of the strategies used by Florida politicians and solar advocates to the tactics used by New England lawmakers and Massachusetts solar companies.

They may call it the Sunshine State, but a strange coalition of solar energy advocates say that in reality, Florida is where solar powered dreams go to die.

Florida is a conservative state and one of only five in the nation that legally prohibits anyone besides the biggest utility companies from selling electricity. That means residents who produce solar power can’t sell surplus electrical capacity, and that solar energy companies can’t sell power to consumers, only to those big, state-sanctioned utility companies. And since electricity in the Sunshine State is already very cheap, there’s little incentive for residents to go green.

Now, a ragtag coalition of Evangelicals, conservatives, and liberal activists are banding together to fight what they call an energy monopoly in the state. The groups are working together to get a ballot initiative up before voters; they’ve gathered 100,000 out of a necessary 700,000 signatures so far. If they succeed, Florida voters will decide in 2016 whether solar energy companies can sell electricity straight to Florida consumers.

“Some may think this is an unusual group of people to be working together, but what we share is common sense,”said David Cullen of the Sierra Club.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, despite its large size, Florida lags behind smaller states like Massachusetts in the race for solar power.

So let’s compare the Florida government’s solar approach to that of Massachusetts. New England lawmakers have been pressuring utility companies to offer better rates and rebates for solar energy producers and Massachusetts solar companies. Such solar incentives have helped Massachusetts solar companies produce more than 800 megawatts of solar energy in just a few years (308 megawatts in 2014 alone), ranking the state fourth nationally in new solar capacity.

The state has also been able to attract more green energy jobs; 174,000 people work in the solar industry, which saw a 20% increase in jobs since last year. Massachusetts solar companies have been expanding aggressively to meet the state’s ambitious solar energy goals. Plus, demand keeps increasing as the cost keeps decreasing; the price of photo-voltaic panels plunged 80% in the past few years.

Nationwide, 50% of all new electrical capacity in the United States comes from solar panels. Meanwhile, the Sunshine State lets all that solar power go to waste. Hopefully, Florida voters will decide for themselves whether they should have the right to the benefits of solar energy. They only have to look to Massachusetts solar companies to see how lucrative green energy can be.