By Michael Cohen, Solar United Neighbors of Florida
Politicians are sheltering in place developing their plans for the coming elections and solar energy should be on their minds.
They should demonstrate that they care about protecting Florida’s environment and jobs and saving taxpayers’ money by supporting solar.
It is not just the liberals, Democrats or environmentalists who favor solar. According to Pew Research, even 49% of conservative Republicans agree that the nation’s most important energy priority should be developing wind and solar power and hydrogen technology rather than increasing U.S. production of fossil fuels.
Solar energy is the alternative energy for Floridians. Anecdotally, a neighbor of mine drives a big white pickup truck with a Trump bumper sticker and he is adding all the solar panels that can fit on his roof after joining a solar co-op.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Florida has more than 51,000 homes powered by solar energy, a number that has nearly tripled in the last two years.
Some of those are served by the 54 solar co-ops in Solar United Neighbors of Florida, which have helped 1,700 homeowners add 16 megawatts of solar to their rooftops since 2016.
Co-op members leverage bulk-purchasing power to get discounted pricing and a quality installation, while still signing individual contracts that ensure the right system for their home.
Orlando and Orange County are (virtually) launching the next solar co-op in June, joining five others that are already active across the county. Osceola, Lake and Hillsborough counties will start later in the summer.
These solar adopters save on their electric costs and say, “It is like printing money on your roof.” Many of these homes are in the I-4 corridor from Daytona Beach to St. Petersburg. Some are also in the Panhandle, a predominantly Republican area.
The number of Florida solar jobs — installers, manufacturers, salespeople and more — grew by 18 percent in 2019 to more than 12,000. Only California has more solar workers. Many of these jobs pay much more than minimum wage and should be part of any stimulus or recovery plan.
In the near future, “solar plus storage” will replace coal, gas, and nuclear-powered electricity because it is more economical. No trains with mountains of coal or new gas pipelines will need to go through the state. No CO2 pollution is caused by sunlight hitting a panel.
A solar-energy spill is just another beautiful day in the Sunshine State. Daytime storage (batteries) will power homes at night. Many power companies are researching and testing utility-scale storage.
Some Floridians are installing batteries to survive outages; OUC is even giving customers with solar a $2,000 rebate if they add a battery to their solar system.
It is time for all politicians to support solar power at the national, state, and local levels. If you want to see the future, go outside and let the sunshine warm your face.
Michael Cohen is the co-founder of Solar United Neighbors of Florida.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.