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Keys Solar Co-Op Harnesses Group Effort To Harness The Sun's Power

A Key Largo couple who installed solar power through Solar United Neighbors, with their dog
Solar United Neighbors of Florida
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Jill Kuehnert and Glenn Wright are members of the Key Largo solar co-op from 2018.

Like a lot of other things, electricity is expensive in the Keys, because of the cost of maintaining the system to send power down from the mainland. Now there's a new effort to harness an abundant energy source — sunshine.

Solar United Neighbors is a nonprofit that forms local co-ops including, right now, one in the Florida Keys. The Keys co-op already has 50 members but they'd like to grow to 100 according to Laura Tellez, the South Florida program director.

The group has already done 60 co-ops throughout the state, including one in Key Largo in 2018.

"Florida is our brightest and biggest program," she said.

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The nonprofit's role is to facilitate a selection committee to find a solar installer at competitive prices. They also have experts available to answer questions for homeowners about solar power.

Joining the co-op is free and does not mean committing to solar, Tellez said.

"Co-op members will have access to very competitive co-op pricing and then Team Solar will reach out to do a site visit and give them a proposal based on the co-op pricing, but they have no obligation on signing a contract," she said.

Tellez says solar systems in Florida tend to be bigger than most because of the heavy demands of air conditioning. But the size of the system can vary.

"It's really up to the individual and what each individual wants to do — if they want to offset all of their energy or they want to offset part of it. There's no hard rule," she said.

The cutoff date to join the Keys co-op is Jan. 8. An online information session is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15.

In Key West, altering the appearance of a home is strictly regulated in the Old Town historic district. Current regulations say homeowners should try to conceal solar panels from the street view — but if that's the only way they will get sunlight, the city can't stop you according to the city's sustainability coordinator.

Both utilities in the Keys offer net metering, where homes with solar arrays can draw from the public utility when they need to — and sell any excess power to the utility. You can find information about that for the Florida Keys Electric Co-Op here.

FKEC provides power from Key Largo to the Seven Mile Bridge. The Lower Keys and Key West get power from Keys Energy Services. You can find information about their net metering program here.

Note: Solar United for Florida is a WLRN underwriter