• Joe Collins

Building a Renewable Energy Future in the Sunshine State

What is the best approach to building a renewable energy future?

“Everything in moderation as my mother used to say.”

In the Halls of Congress, members of all political stripes are recognizing that even if natural climate cycles are a reality, climate change is caused by humans and global temperatures are rising.

At this point, most of the “climate denier types” have melted away. Not literally of course, temperatures haven’t gotten that hot.

Now we’ll see if leaders can put politics aside and agree on solutions to support different forms of energy for a low carbon future. Relying solely on renewables will not get the job done.

We will need nuclear, fossil fuels, solar, wind, etc., for the foreseeable future to power our ever growing energy needs, unless we can find a way to substantially increase efficiency and/or reduce demand.

The good news is that moving in a different energy direction will create homegrown jobs for Americans while also helping the environment.

The trick is going to be making policies that different constituencies can agree on and limiting the role of government so as not to stifle the “free market.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for government. Funding for research and development is important in order to discover and promote different technologies that will enhance renewables and temper the destructive pollutants emitted by burning fossil fuels.

And certainly some regulation will be in order. Especially, to incentivize big polluters to reduce carbon emissions and protect the masses from dangerous chemicals.

But divisive mandates and huge infrastructure projects with heavy price tags will lead to stalemate, bickering, finger pointing, and political grandstanding.

And politicians are often beholden to whatever controlling special interests dominate their district or state. So that dynamic will play out as well at the "great sausage making party on Capitol Hill."

Doesn’t matter how noble the cause, politics will determine whether and how things get done.

Better to stay away from mandates and institute policies that incentivize good behavior at the state and local levels rather than look to Washington for solutions.

Board directors at corporations that have large carbon footprints (think oil and gas companies) can get involved too. Introduce carbon sequestration targets, and tie executive compensation to net-zero goals. Incentivize don’t mandate.

And of course the best thing to do is change behavior around electricity creation at the consumer level.

In Florida, energy generation is changing. Electric Utilities are building large solar arrays to produce energy, while reducing carbon emissions and saving money at the same time.

And even though the majority of their energy production still comes from burning fossil fuels, at least they're moving in the right direction.

However, utility scale solar projects “although green” often don’t translate into significant cost savings for homeowners and businesses.

In fact in Florida, both Duke Energy and Florida Power and Light (FPL) have recently raised rates to offset the costs of building mammoth solar arrays.

But rooftop solar on homes and businesses does translate into energy savings and lower monthly bills as well as reducing carbon footprints.

The costs of solar installations for businesses is offset with tax credits and accelerated depreciation, making them cash flow positive immediately.

And for homeowners, zero down loans for solar systems produce immediate savings.

Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), rooftop solar panels still only account for 15% of Florida’s solar generation, with the rest coming from large utility scale projects.

Many solar professionals claim that the limited growth of rooftop solar in Florida is due to the impediments big utilities like Duke and FPL apply to keep homeowners and businesses from building their own solar systems.

But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a changing.”

With rooftop solar, most homeowners and businesses are able to produce energy cheaper and avoid the annual rate increases from their utility. Not to mention contributing less to climate pollution, air pollution, and water pollution.

And it doesn’t cost you anything to get an estimate and figure out if solar will save you money. If it doesn’t, you can always stick with your utility.

Every little bit counts in the race to protect the planet. So while you’re thinking about putting solar on your roof, it wouldn’t hurt to plant a tree or two either.

Joe Collins is the owner of CIE Solar Energy, LLC.

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