Why is the Sunshine State saying "no" to solar power?

Florida the sunshine state sign
CC BY 3.0 Flickr

Southeast utilities are blocking solar in favor of coal

You'd think that the places with the most sunshine would be the biggest proponents of solar power, but sadly, the world doesn't make that much sense. Cloudy Germany has long been a leader in solar power, while Florida, the self-proclaimed Sunshine State, along with most of the US Southeast, has created a regulatory environment that is outright hostile to solar.

While it's not surprising that the U.S. Southwest has the most solar capacity installed (just look at the map below to see why), it makes no sense that the Northeast is the second most solar-friendly region in the country (even New Jersey has over 20,000 homes with solar panels). A big part of the problem is that local utilities, who are very dependent on coal and natural gas, have successfully lobbied to put anti-solar regulations on the books; while in places like California you get a generous tax credit and the ability to run your electricity meter backwards (net-metering), in parts of the Southeast you actually have to pay extra taxes and fees on solar equipment and power generation.

NREL/Public Domain

And all these roadblocks are not just a reflection of lack of demand: "We get all kinds of inquiries every day" from the South, said Will Craven, spokesman for SolarCity. "People there want to be our customers." Florida, in particular, is known as the "sleeping giant" of his industry, Craven said. "It has a ton of sunshine, a ton of rooftops," he said. "But there is no rooftop solar industry in Florida."

The situation reminds me a little of how many states are trying to block Tesla from operating within their borders. It's mostly the old incumbents trying to block competition and protect their businesses. With electric cars, it's the dealerships trying to protect their profits (they make most of their money from maintenance, and electric cars don't need much of it, and to properly sell an EV, you need to point out how it's superior to gas vehicles). With rooftop solar, it's the power utilities that want to avoid demand destruction (once you install solar panels, you stop buying much electricity, if any, for decades).

Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Of course the utilities claim that solar power is hard for the grid to handle and expensive, but that's just an excuse. Many places have a lot of solar power and their grid is doing just fine, and rooftop solar is now inexpensive enough that it saves people money rather than cost them extra (it would be especially cost-effective in sunny Florida).

What the utilities are really afraid of is being less profitable. You can clearly see it happening in Australia, with solar shaving off the profitable demand peak in the middle of the day, and it's just a preview of what will happen in many other countries over time.

I have a tip for them: Don't try to fight progress. Embrace it and find ways to benefit from it. If I was running one of these utilities, I'd go into the solar leasing and solar installation business.

Via LA Times

Tags: Florida | Solar Energy | Solar Power

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