The Extras

Letting the Sunshine In: Florida's Solar Innovations

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Distribution of solar power in the United States is growing and Florida is taking steps to increase its power production, most noticeably in the City of Gainesville.

“The U.S. is responsible for only 6 percent of solar deployment in the world,” said Pegreen Hanrahan, former mayor of Gainesville, but, she added that her medium-sized university city has been taking creative steps in the right direction.

“Gainesville is the first city in the U.S. to use a feed-in tariff for solar energy,” she stated during a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami Saturday morning.

The panelists discussed the state of solar power in the U.S. and its chances of increased production in the future.

The goal of the Gainesville’s program is to reduce carbon dioxide levels to 7 percent less than they were in 1990 by 2012. The city expects that goal to be met by 2013.

Pegeen Hanrahan

Since the program started in 2009, the city has reduced its carbon footprint by 711,079 metric tons of carbon dioxide, Hanrahan stated.

“Feed-in tariff is the best mechanism for public utilities,” said Peter DeNapoli, eastern regional manager of solar panel manufacturer Scanworld USA. “It’s mind boggling that they aren’t racing to these policies.”

DeNapoli explained that for solar deployment to increase, the conditions must be just right. There must be a great solar resource, high energy costs and a population that wants to embrace renewable energy.  DeNapoli said these conditions are present in Florida, but there are obstacles as well.

“The U.S. has too many decision makers and no national energy policies,” DeNapoli said. “There’s no set place to start reform.”

Yet despite this lack of direction, renewable energy has also been furthered by the PACE Program, a topic approached by the final panel member, Sun-Sentinel reporter Julie Patel.

“PACE allows people to take out loans to pay for energy efficient upgrades to their home or business,” Patel said, “These loans are long term and transferrable.”

PACE, however, has experienced problems with people defaulting on their loans, an issue that has put the entire program on hold for now.

Despite these challenges, more and more communities in Florida are considering new ways of managing their utilities.  Winter Park, Sarasota and Coco Beach already held meetings to discuss the future.

“There’s huge demand for energy efficient utilities programs,” said Hanrahan.

To take matters even better, there is no development period for this technology.

“We don’t have to invent this,” DeNapoli said, “the blueprint is already there.”

Hopefully that blueprint leads to a greener Florida.

More like this: Panel Discussions

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