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Why the Florida Solar Initiative Is Losing

| August 3, 2015

florida solar initiative

Not catching on yet. (David Blaikie)

By Peter Schorsch

I love solar power.

You love solar power.

Everyone loves solar power.

It’s the ice cream of energy production: It should come with sprinkles.

There is so much to love. And unlike a toddler with a cone, there’s no messy cleanup: Nobody’s blowing the tops off mountains to mine it, there are no issues with storing radioactive canisters in a cave or shooting chemicals into our underground water supply. And for those of you who care about such things, there are no global warming concerns.

Other than the fact that our power demands generally outstrip its capacity and is (even with the tax breaks) kind of expensive, it’s a pretty good thing.

So why are voters not coming out of the woodwork to support the initiative being pushed by the group known as Floridians for Solar Choice? A recent Mason-Dixon poll covered and reviewed in Florida Politics showed it failing miserably and to many people I have spoken with, they are genuinely confused. Only 30 percent said they would vote for it while 45 percent opposed it. How can this be? Who would vote against the ice cream of power?

I have a theory.

When your petition begins with not one but two negative words, voters get confused.  Here, read it for yourself:

“Limits or Prevents Barriers to Local Solar Electricity Supply”

context floridaI think that when respondents taking a poll hear two negative terms, “limits” followed by “prevents” and then they hear something positive, “local solar electricity,” it can easily be misunderstood to sound like it is anti-solar. It’s simple algebra … a negative times a positive is a negative.

Am I wrong?

Can it be that people fed up with solar power and don’t want to muck up the constitution? (You know, that hallowed scroll that ensures we can’t put pregnant pigs in confinement.)

If I am, then how come the other proposal, titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice” scores a solid 66 percent? Read that carefully.  It has the best words ever: Rights. Consumers. Choice. Solar Energy. They are all positive and happy terms. It’s a nice consensus in a single phrase.

The problem isn’t with the popularity of solar power, but the poor choice of words written by the people who have the best-ever name for their group: Floridians for Solar Choice.

I wonder why the same folks who came up with such a great-sounding title for their organization, came up with such convoluted negative-sounding language for their ballot measure. They began with vanilla or some really awesome chocolate chip cookie dough and ended up with a Rocky Road.

Ok, the metaphor just didn’t work there … but you get the idea.

Peter Schorsch, a political consultant based in St. Petersburg, publishes and edits the Florida political blog Reach him by email here.

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10 Responses for “Why the Florida Solar Initiative Is Losing”

  1. DwFerg says:

    Solar power seems like a great idea, i.e. until you look behind the curtain. ITS CAPITAL INVESTMENT COSTS and Poor ( but improving efficiency) make it an expensive alternative to conventional power generating technologies. Remember, fossil fuels now cost HALF of what they were a year ago, thereby making the gap between the economics of solar versus nat gas that much WIDER. its time may come for broader acceptance of solar, but like converting salt water to potable, the economics are not there , unless you have no other alternatives. Current predictions state that we are heading closer to $ 2/ Gallon gasoline later this year—-I want clean energy, everybody should want Cleaner energy, BUT at what COST DOES IT MAKE SENSE ???

    • MrK says:

      Let’s say your home is in Duke Energy’s territory with a monthly electric bill of $150. You could have solar with a zero down fixed-rate loan that runs $140 a month. The customer charge would still be $8.65 so your total monthly electricity spend comes to $148.56.

      Here’s where it gets fun. Duke Energy has raised prices 48% over the past 10 years, so 4.8% per year. At that rate, you’ll give Duke $60,252 over the next 20 years, while facing a $389 monthly bill in 2035. On the other hand, if you get solar, your net repayment will be $33,578… and at the end of 20 years, you’re producing free power.

      Gross savings over 20 years? $26,673. Factor in some system performance degradation, and an new inverter sometime in the next 20 years and your net savings comes to $21,703, or $1,808 annually. If you don’t care about $1808 annually, I’ll send you wire instructions to set up the recurring transfer to my account, thanks.

    • Devrie says:

      The problem lies primarily with the Florida Constitution and how we handle utilities. In other states, a solar panel maker can set up a home with solar power and charge the customer for the energy produced until the cost of the installation is complete, but in Florida, utilities are granted a monopoly, which means the solar companies cannot do that. That means people have to pay for the solar panels and installation out of their pockets and hope to receive a decent return on investment. That’s what Florida Right to Produce and Sell Solar Energy Initiative is about–amending the Florida Constitution to allow the solar companies to provide consumers with an affordable means to switching to solar power.

      Florida has other barriers to generating solar to, as other states are able to regulate how much a customer can be paid back from the power companies for the power they generate with solar, but here in Florida, the power companies pay only a very small fraction back to the customer for the energy production.

  2. Sherry E says:

    Wow, Peter. . . you have a really excellent point! Communication that hits a home run with your particular audience is the key. Keep it simple and positive. You have to sell it, to pass it!

  3. Sherry E says:

    Thanks so much Mr. K. . . great costs/benefit analysis!

    We live in the sunshine state. . . we should absolutely be using solar power! What is ridiculous to me is the fact that FPL and Duke have not at least partially converted to solar. I think they would prefer to just continue the status quo of polluting the planet with fossil fuels, while limiting their investment in modernizing their energy plants and continuing to raise the monthly bills to their consumer. . . after all, it is not about protecting their customers lungs and pocketbooks or about saving the planet. . . it’s ONLY about TODAY’S BOTTOM LINE.

  4. My thoughts says:

    It’s not just the economics for the individual consumer. Duke Energy closed the Crystal River nuclear plant in Citrus County. Guess who is paying for that? They were also fined for pollution in other states. Guess who is paying for that, too? Check it out.

  5. Lancer says:

    Solar needs to stay in the residential market to off set individual household costs and supplement the main power grid. It CANNOT sustain and provide power for the masses…solar cell technology makes it impossible.

    In understanding power…keep in mind that many businesses have to pay on a KwD rate. That revenue goes directly towards buying new power stations to supply future demand. Company’s like Nextera, who own FPL, are constantly at the forefront of offsetting energy costs. Why? because it’s in their best interest.

    If solar did what people assume it did…the third world would be using it en masse. Instead, China and India open one coal power plant a week.

    Another problem are epa regulations that keep trying to squeeze more blood from tired turnips. This has resulted in more pressures of HVAC, for instance, and have created warranty nightmares…as the higher the pressures, the more warranty calls. It’s in everything…from water heaters to light bulbs.

    The real energy users and greatest challenge are those businesses on a KwD schedules.

  6. MrK says:

    Solar + storage absolutely will sustain the masses. It’s only a matter of time, my friend.

    Perhaps you should consider that every form of electricity generation we’ve historically employed, including renewable such as wind and hydro, use the same method. A mechanical process turns a crank, which spins a generator that produces electricity. I repeat, mechanical.

    Solar, on the other hand, has no mechanical presence, it is purely electrical. It is a technology product, which follows the tech curve. Although you make fair points about demand changes, those are policy driven, not technology. So, when you say that solar cannot power the masses, I’m forced to think about the comments professionals made about computers back in the 60s and 70s.

    Regarding China and India, maybe this SeekingAlpha article would be of interest:

  7. Lancer says:

    “It’s only a matter of time”. When is that?? Not anytime soon. That’s the point. It’s not even close to meeting current demand, let alone future growth. Spain has largest solar field in the world…it didn’t reduce costs, it increased them and took up a great deal of space!

    As far as India and China…sure they have “some” solar. Sure they’re researching it.

    However, the reality is…China/ India are building ONE COAL PLANT A WEEK. If “solar” was their major energy producer they wouldn’t be doing this.

    Further, thanks to Europe finally being aware to how disastrous it is for them to be so reliant on Russian NG…it seems they are reducing their stringent environmental policies to allow more fracking.

    This is all because the World’s energy demands increase by the size of Brazil EVERY year. That’s just to meet demand. It will increase. Why? Because more and more 3rd world and developing countries are coming on line. Take a gander at the projects on tap for IMF, ADB and World Bank…all power and sewer projects.

    Continue to sell pipedreams and fantasy to people who haven’t been doing major infrastructure projects, internationally, for years. I love solar…residentially. I’ve done solar farms on three continents…all were disasters because…they’re fragile, they break, they get dirty and if someone throws a grenade in them…they’re done…constant maintenance.

  8. Sherry E says:

    Thanks again Mr K. . . it’s always great to have factual information from a “knowledgeable” source!

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