Florida’s standing in the area of solar energy development has gone from a position of strength to one of near abandonment. Once a leader in the field of solar energy, Florida is now an also ran to places like New Jersey, Tennessee, and Oregon. Florida is 18th out of 23 ranked states in photovoltaic installations for the first quarter of 2012, sliding from 14th in the previous quarter. Given the current lack of activity, Florida will probably not make the list next time around.
Support for solar energy makes sense for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the positive environmental attributes that come with renewable, clean energy generation. However, the most important reason to support solar energy is the economic development potential that comes with a robust solar energy infrastructure. Consider that for every one MegaWatt of solar energy capacity that is constructed, 50 jobs are created. That holds true for utility-scale solar plants as well as aggregated residential and small commercial facilities. It holds true for solar-electric (photovoltaic) systems as well as solar-thermal (water and swimming pool heating) systems. This is domestic energy production.
Support for solar energy is paramount for the market transformation that will be necessary if solar energy is to realize its full potential in the Sunshine State. This support can take many forms. It is not just financial support. But if it does come in the form of financial support, it needs to be sustainable and predictable. The last five years of government and utility rebates for solar energy have too often left consumers with broken promises and the solar industry with broken dreams.
The reform of energy policies that pre-date the era of solar energy will position Florida as a state that welcomes solar expansion. Prohibitions against third-party power purchase agreements and conjunctive billing have prevented private investment in solar. Need determination policies for new power generation have hampered utility investment in solar. Community associations and building departments can be formidable obstacles to a streamlined solar installation process.
There need be no losers in the creation of a sound solar energy policy for Florida.
The Secretary of the US Department of Energy announced the SunShot Imitative in 2011. Deliberately modeled after the Moon Shot program of the Kennedy administration, SunShot purports to make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. It is a multi pronged approach to reducing the installed cost of solar energy systems, including the adoption of exemplary policies and best practices. It may be a long shot in Florida, but we need to give it a shot.