Solar Congress Helps South Florida Homeowners Figure Out How To Harvest Clean Energy

Dec 2, 2018

There’s a movement building in Florida to take advantage of solar power and, according to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, it has reached a tipping point. 

“We are the sunshine state, and we’ve been a little in the clouds,” Cava laughed. “It’s time to come out.”

The non-profit organization Florida Solar United Neighbors, with a history of connecting solar enthusiasts and educating the public on renewable energy sources, hosted a free public event over the weekend called the 2018 Florida Solar Congress.

Held in the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami, supporters talked about the future of solar in South Florida -- how it’s expanding, grassroots solar advocacy, and how harvesting clean solar power can bring energy freedom and public health benefits to communities like Little Haiti.

But installing rooftop solar energy systems is still a complex and expensive process, even though there are ways to decrease costs. Here are some overall takeaways to consider, and how Floridians can take control of where their electricity comes from.

1.- Solar Co-Ops Are Rapidly Increasing

A solar co-op equals energy freedom, according to Florida Solar United Neighbors Director Angela DeMonbreun.

“We help people join together and fight for their energy rights,” DeMonbreun said.

Solar co-ops bind neighbors interested in installing solar power in a kind of support group. With bulk purchasing power similar to Groupon, they can help homeowners get the right solar equipment, quality installation and discounts on solar energy systems. Each homeowner still signs an individual contract and may have to negotiate additional permits and miscellaneous expenses.

According to DeMonbreun, co-ops are expanding statewide. In 2015, Solar United Neighbors started with 2 volunteer-led co-ops. In 2016, those numbers grew to where the organization’s solar co-ops were responsible for 3.5% of all new solar installations across the state. By 2017, those numbers reached nearly 10 percent of all new installations.

DeMonbreun said there are currently 40 solar co-ops in Florida, and those numbers will continue to grow in 2018.

There are currently South Florida solar co-ops open to new participants for a limited time in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. 

Miami-Dade District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava poses with other solar supporters at the 2018 Florida S
Credit Lily Oppenheimer / WLRN News

2.- What is Net Metering?

By law, utility companies are required to let homeowners earn credit for excess solar electricity generated and fed back into “the grid.” According to Solar United Neighbors officials, when solar panels produce excess electricity than your home uses, that electricity is sent out to be used in other homes or businesses nearby. Net metering means homeowners will get credit for those extra Watts.

With rising energy prices and carbon emissions, experts say it’s an ideal time to go solar. Once a homeowner’s solar installation is complete, the monthly electric bill will reflect the total amount of electricity used minus the amount of electricity the solar panels produced.

In the sunshine state, where solar panels will produce a higher amount of electricity during the day, this can make a huge difference in those monthly electric bills.

3.- Miami-Dade Officials Are Pushing For Solar-Powered Government Buildings

“We’re seeing more and more developers incorporating solar, so that’s a big part of what I’m pressing for, as well as for government buildings to go solar, government installations,” said District 8 Commissioner Levine Cava during the event.

She recently directed an October study that looked at the impact of installing solar panels into Miami-Dade government buildings. The decision would save a huge amount of electricity, she said.

Currently, Miami-Dade County only receives 1.2 percent of electricity from renewable sources like solar, according to Florida Power and Light data.  During the event in Little Haiti, advocacy groups like the Miamians for Energy Freedom urged the County to produce enough renewable energy to serve 100 percent of unincorporated Miami-Dade’s energy needs by 2050.

“It is their intention to move in that direction,” Cava said. “It isn’t really completed because it didn’t look at government-owned land, and open space as well.”

Cava said that will be the next step of the County’s study, but after that, she will be aggressively pushing for solar installations that will save taxpayer money.

For more information on joining a solar co-op, building a resilient community and how to get involved with Solar United Neighbors, visit solarunitedneighbors.org/florida.