The City of South Miami Mayor and Commission made history in September 2017 by passing a law that requires residential solar power be installed in certain circumstances and, in doing so, they provide residents the promise of saving a significant amount of money while also helping protect our environment.
The mayor and commissioners should be commended for their vision and while I am proud that South Miami’s leaders took this important step, the impact of the law being the first of its kind in Florida, and just the fourth City in the U.S. with such a law, sends a powerful and important message to the world.
Implementing this landmark law took tremendous vision and I am deeply proud of the incredible support that the South Miami Commission and staff offered through the entire process. Over the course of nearly a year and a half of work it was clear that following one 5/0 vote after another in favor of the law during the review process that the commission was committed to lowering residents’ energy costs and for that they are to be commended.
There are many reasons why this new law is important for local residents, all Americans, and people all around the world.
First, there is the obvious advantage to a homeowner that installs a solar system – saving money. Take, for example, the findings from the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) which concluded that installing a solar system on one’s home produces a 14.2 percent return on investment. The University calculates that a 5-Kilowatt solar system will save a homeowner about $844 per year and that a 9 KW system saves about $1,500 per year.
Experts have also concluded that the average new solar system fully pays for itself within seven years and since today’s solar panels performance are warrantied for 30 years by manufacturers those savings will continue for decades with little to no maintenance.
My family owns a solar powered home that is connected to our local power company so that we can sell our surplus solar power back to the utility through something called net solar metering. Our home produces so much power every day from the sun through our solar system, for free, that our monthly bill from power company ranges $7-$15. Without our solar system our bill would easily be hundreds of dollars per month, every month.
Interestingly, given the growth in electric cars, the University of Central Florida has also studied the cost of fueling a car with gasoline versus charging an electrical car. They’ve even studied the economic benefit of combining an electric car that’s charged by a home with a solar power system and the result is simply amazing. FSEC has calculated that the annual cost to fuel the average car with gasoline is $964.00, while the cost to fuel an electric car powered with energy supplied by the local power company is $385.00 per year. And here is the best part, the cost to power an electric car with energy from a solar system on one’s home is just $279.00 per year, which saves $685.00 per year (71%) versus using gasoline!
Florida ranks 3rd in the U.S. for its potential to generate energy from solar power but is only 17th in actual solar power production. For a place called “The Sunshine State” to only be 17th makes no sense but the South Miami law helps pave the way for others in Florida to follow by leveraging the free power the sun offers us every day.
And for those who need an incentive to see why this is so important then consider that experts predict that half of all of Florida’s power needs can come from solar power by about 2045 if we just start to take solar power seriously. South Miami’s new law is a serious step in the right direction.
Candidly, it’s these types of savings that consumers can enjoy that explain why our local power company, FP&L, is so interested in South Miami’s new solar law. They see consumer generated solar power as a threat to the future of their business because of the savings – and freedom – it provides to homeowners. It’s a lot like one using Netflix over cable, its simply better. While FP&L has all of a sudden begun touting their supposed commitment to solar power in expensive TV ads the truth is that they are not committed to solar power. Not at all.
According to FP&L’s own annual report, they generate less than half of 1 percent of their power from solar power. And that’s after being in business for nearly 100 years in the “Sunshine State.” And while FP&L is all of a sudden happy to tout solar power in its advertising the utility actually spent over $14 million in Florida in 2016 fighting Amendment 4, a law that sought to expand solar.
It took an amazing grassroots effort to educate people about the truth before voters fought back and defeated FP&L’s attempt to limit and control solar power. No, they are not in favor of solar power or other sustainable energy solutions and would, instead, rather invest in ultra-expensive nuclear power. So the next time you see one of those fancy ads from FP&L telling you how much they love solar power or how low their bills are please remember that figure, half of 1 percent and also remember that they are fighting consumer-produced solar because they see it for what it is – a low-to-no cost threat to their expensive power bills and business.
Another positive benefit to a residential solar system comes when you decide to sell your home. Solar has also been embraced by the real estate industry because it increases the value of a home and makes it more attractive to buyers than a home without solar. The Colorado Energy Office, for example, recently issued a report entitled The Impact of Photovoltaic Systems on Market Value & Marketability which concluded that; ‘The overwhelming majority of Realtors surveyed believe that owned PV systems increase the market value and marketability of homes’. That sounds like a pretty positive impact to me.
And given Hurricane Irma’s devastating impact to our region just a few months ago, allow me to share another “only in South Florida” positive impact of a rooftop solar system; those panels help protect your roof and home. Although our home is located at ground zero where Irma’s eye landed our solar panels remained in place, undamaged, and worked perfectly. They also most certainly helped keep our roof attached to our home at a time when some neighbors without rooftop solar lost their roofs and, in some cases, their entire homes. I’ve recently seen with my own eyes that a well installed rooftop solar system helps protect your home from a hurricane and in a place like South Florida that’s yet another positive benefit of owing a solar system.
Admittedly, South Miami’s new solar law is intentionally modest in that it will only impact a couple of homes, at most, a year – but it is an important start in the right direction. The new law only impacts a new home that’s at least 1,100 square feet in size or in existing homes where the majority, 75 percent or more, of the home is being replaced or rebuilt.
While working on the creation of this law, South Miami’s building director explained that the impact of the law would be minimal and when I asked him how many existing homes would be impacted he said, “We do not believe that there would be many of those.”
To further mitigate the impact to existing homeowners, it’s important to know that South Miami’s law also includes a provision that excludes homes that are rebuilt after a natural disaster such as Hurricane Irma. The thinking by the commission and mayor was that folks already have enough to worry about after a storm so in the event one has to rebuild after a storm they will not be required to install solar no matter the extent or size of their renovation.
Delaney Reynolds is a Marine Biology student at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. She is the Founder & CEO of The Sink or Swim Project, an educational and political advocacy organization focused on a variety of environmental topics including climate change and sea level rise. Reynolds also is the author and illustrator of three children’s books, as well as a comic book on ecology topics – and is currently completing a new book on the impact of climate change and sea level rise in South Florida. For information visit www.miamisearise.com or www.delaneyreynolds.com.