A group of women from the state of Florida, USA, is working with local citizens to set up solar energy co-ops – to help Florida earn the name “The Sunshine State”. Founded in 1939, the League of Women Voters of Florida is the largest non-partisan advocacy group in the state, and works to encourages informed and active participation in government, and to increase understanding of major public policy issues.
The solar co-ops bring together homeowners interested in solar energy. By joining the co-op, the members do not commit to purchase panels – the co-op receives bids from local installers and chooses the one that is best for the group. Members then get an individualised proposal for their home that reflects the group discount, which could help them save up to 20% of the cost of a solar system.
Together with Community Power Network, the league has launched Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL Sun), a project to expand access to solar energy by working with local people and helping them to learn more about solar installations and organise group solar installations. They are currently working on developing two co-operatives, Orange County Solar Co-op and St. Pete Solar Co-op.
The initiative comes at a time when Florida is considering two amendments to the country’s constitution that refer to solar energy. Florida has nine million energy customers and only 12,000 rooftop solar systems, according to campaigners. By contrast, New Jersey has over 43,000 rooftop systems even though its population is half of Florida’s. One of the legislative changes proposed, amendment 5 would exempt solar systems from the tangible personal property tax for a period of 20 years. This would lower solar energy costs by lowering taxes on solar installations. The amendment would take effect on 1 January 2018, if backed by over 60% of voters.
Another amendment backed by utilities is proposing to allow Florida consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate their own electricity. The amendment also says state and local governments have the authority “to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do”.
But opponents of this amendments such as the League argue it could enable utilities to charge users high fixed fees and eliminate net metering.