Despite the state’s famous moniker, Florida lags behind other states in developing solar energy.
The Associated Press reports that the Sunshine State ranks 13th in the country in solar power generated, even though it ranks 3rd in rooftop solar power potential. Recent initiatives in other states, such as California, have promoted solar power for both commercial and residential uses. Thirty other states and the federal government offer incentives (or mandates) for property owners to install solar panels.
However, Florida has yet to offer any incentives due to what critics deem antiquated state laws that exclusively benefit utility companies.
“The rules are set up so there isn’t competition right now, and competition could be healthy,” said James Fenton, the director of the Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida.
Fenton and other renewable energy advocates are making strange bedfellows with conservative groups like the Sierra Club and the Tea Party. Both sides look down upon the lack of private competition (though renewable energy supporters are more upset with the environmental impact of conventional energy than the conservative groups). Both sides are collecting signatures for a state ballot initiative next year that would amend Florida’s constitution to allow non-utilities businesses to sell solar power.
So far, the initiative has collected 100,000 of the 700,000 signatures necessary for it to reach the ballot.
Florida is one of the four states that mandate solar energy be sold solely by utility companies. Critics claim that the mandate stifles competition, and as a result makes solar energy more expensive for consumers who want it.
So far, only 2% of Florida’s energy production comes from solar power. Scott McIntyre, an employee of Solar Energy Management, a solar panel installation company based in Tampa, is frustrated with the state’s obstinacy.
“We’re trying to provide Floridians with solar power,” McIntyre said. “But there are no incentives for commercial solar in Florida. None.”
However, utility representatives are quick to point out that the average energy costs in the state are 30% lower than the national average. They argue that the reason why solar energy hasn’t taken off isn’t necessarily because the state makes it difficult. Rather, it’s due to the fact that traditional utilities are simply cheaper than solar power.
Still, Florida’s utility companies are resistant to the idea of using more renewable energy sources, something that is mandated by Washington D.C. and thirty other states. The mandates are part of a concerted effort to bolster “clean energy” and they seem to be working. The Energy Information Administration, for example, predicts solar energy installations will be used by close to one million homes by 2020.