Is Florida Actually the Sunshine State?
A nickname must be earned, I’m sure someone said once. And Florida you are earning yours. The Sunshine State, which I hate to break to you, is in fact the 10th sunniest state in the country. That’s right, Florida is outshined by 9 other states, including none other than the great Sooner State…yes, Oklahoma. But no matter, Florida. You’re earning it and that’s what’s important. And you’re earning it in one of the more important ways: through a meteoric adoption of solar power.
As recently as 2015 Florida didn’t even place on the national ranking of solar states, getting beaten in sun powered rankings by places like New Jersey and Connecticut. But in 2016, out of nowhere, Florida burst onto the solar scene and in the last 6 years has installed enough solar power to be 3rd in the nation, beating heavy hitters like Arizona and Nevada and surpassed only by California and Texas.
There’s now enough solar installed in Florida to power over 1 Million homes, providing nearly 5% of the State’s electricity (still a small number but trending to over 20% by the end of the decade). And Florida has quickly reaped the financial reward. With over $12 Billion of solar investments made in the state, Florida is now home to nearly 400 solar installers, developers, manufacturers and technology companies. And, I think most importantly, there are now over 12,000 people in Florida employed directly by the solar industry with that number growing by the day.
And this success has attracted some uncommon bedfellows of the solar industry. In April 2022 Governor Ron DeSantis stood up for the rights of home solar consumers and for solar workers by vetoing a utility-sponsored bill that would have effectively killed net metering in Florida (read more on Net Metering here) and would have imposed significant additional charges to utility customers who wanted to go solar. Opponents of the bill argued that this would have eliminated any financial incentive for going solar and had a profoundly negative impact on the rapidly growing solar industry in Florida. This bill was supported heavily by Florida’s investor owned utilities but was opposed by 86% of Floridians who were polled. Thanks to the Governor’s move to protect Florida consumers, solar power will continue to be a great option for Floridians to control their cost of power and exercise their ability to help improve the environment and our health.
But why now? Why has it taken Florida so long to see the sunshine? Well, a little history is important. Over 40 years ago, 1980 to be exact, Florida enacted the Florida Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act (FEECA). This law required the Public Service Commission (PSC) to review the conservation goals of each utility. But not until 2014 (34 years later) did the Florida PSC publish any meaningful conservation goals for the utilities subject to FEECA. For the first time did the utilities and other big emitters feel the pressure to clean up. And they jumped to it. In less than 2 years Florida’s big utilities – Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric – installed nearly 500 MW of solar. They’ve installed double and triple that amount every year since. So, in a strange way, the utilities are the heroes in this story.
But nothing is ever so simple. The utilities aren’t losing here. In fact, they are benefiting greatly by the switch – solar power is now the cheapest form of energy in the world, even before incentives and tax credits.
So why would Governor DeSantis have to defy republican lawmakers and overturn the Net Metering law? Because that law wasn’t an anti-solar law, it was an anti-consumer law. It was an attempt by the utilities to make sure they continued to be the only ones who got to benefit from solar power. But thanks to the Governor, various other pro-solar, pro-consumer and pro-business organizations in Florida, the net metering challenge was defeated and Florida homeowners can continue to reap the rewards.
And there are many reasons for Floridians to make a collective effort to wean off fossil fuels. Florida, perhaps more than any state, has the most at risk from rising sea levels and intensified storms. Florida has the lowest average elevation of any state, standing only 100 feet above sea level. Home to cities such as Miami and Cape Coral that sit less than 10 feet above sea level, Florida’s cities are some of the most threatened by flooding and storm damage. But in addition to higher sea levels, a less visible and more insidious impact of carbon emission is the acidification of our oceans. In short, more carbon in the atmosphere means more carbon in the ocean. This additional carbon results in increased carbonic acid (lower pH) and what some researchers think will be a complete disruption to ocean food chains. This will obviously impact us all, but for Floridians, ocean acidification and rising seas directly affect one of the state’s greatest economic drivers: tourism. Tourism currently represents a nearly $100 Billion dollar economic contribution to the State. Saltwater and freshwater fishing tourism alone represents close to $14 Billion dollars of that. Not to mention diving, birding and the broad range of eco-tourism that draw people to Florida from all over the world. All of which will be directly impacted by a changing climate.
But saving the ocean food chain and rescuing the entire economy of Florida can seem a little…daunting. But solar power doesn’t doesn’t require altruism and sacrifice: there are big benefits to individuals who choose to make the switch to clean power.
With multiple incentives in place, regularly increasing cost of electricity and solar loan programs that eliminate upfront costs, a solar power system will save the average Floridian $25,000 to $30,000 over the first 20 years of ownership. And there’s good reason to consider the switch soon. The most lucrative incentive, the federal solar tax credit (give this a read for some more detail on the ITC) will earn you a dollar for dollar tax credit equal to 26% of your solar system cost. This is a rich incentive for homeowners to go solar that on average will equal $8,000 to $10,000 back from the IRS. Unfortunately, it’s set to run its course by the end of next year. Fingers crossed that congress will extend it, but no guarantees.
With such upside it’s no surprise that Florida is making waves in the solar world and given the recent political wins and bi-partisan support for solar power we can be encouraged that this trend will continue.