Florida, not California (as many people somehow presume), was long ago nicknamed “The Sunshine State.” Growing up on the beaches of Southwest Florida before living in places as un-sunny as Central Europe later in life, I can confirm for you that sunshine is indeed one of Florida’s lucky gifts from the heavens. Nonetheless, and to the surprise of many, it took a long time for the solar power industry to get a solid foothold in the state. That has changed recently for a few reasons.
The Sunshine State has long been chided for its weak or even counterproductive rooftop solar/grid policies. However, residents have strongly blocked the worst lobbyist efforts and some goodness has slipped into the state’s legal policies as well. Also, low-priced solar plus a somewhat free market just can’t be stopped. The Sunshine State is solarizing more and more rooftops and the trend should grow in the coming years.
Also, let’s be clear, there are 145 solar and energy efficiency programs across Florida according to the DSIRE database. (That includes programs of specific utilities, cities, and counties all the way up to the US federal level.) The US Department of Energy also has a more concise list of 36 on its website. So, there is some government and utility support for solar.
Overall, Florida is really the weird mixed bag that it’s often cracked up to be. (I can say that since I’m a genuine Floridian and am even moving back there after 14 years away.) It has better natural solar resources than almost any state in the country, but it has low electricity prices from dirty energy utilities, but it also reportedly has the lowest-priced solar system installations per watt ($2.90 per watt purchased with cash). Florida is now a top solar power state, but utilities and their lobbyists have heavily favored utility-scale solar over rooftop solar.
Overall, Florida is #8 in terms of total solar power capacity installed in the USA and it was #3 in terms of new installations in 2017. Over 220,000 homes are now powered by rooftop solar panels. The state is also #8 in terms of rooftop solar potential. All of that said, it’s #20 in terms of rooftop solar power per capita.
Florida is home to 505 solar companies, including 273 installation/development companies, and it has the highest solar growth potential over the next 5 years of any state in the country except one, according to one independent analysis.
But let’s get practical now — what resources are at your disposal if you go solar and how do you do it?
Florida Solar Programs, Incentives, & Tax Exemptions
Homeowners who go solar do benefit from a state net metering policy, which allows any excess solar electricity you generate to be counted as a credit on your utility bill at the retail electricity rate. (“Customer net excess generation (NEG) is carried forward at the utility’s retail rate (i.e., as a kilowatt-hour credit) to a customer’s next bill for up to 12 months. At the end of a 12-month billing period, the utility pays the customer for any remaining NEG at the utility’s avoided-cost rate.”)
Florida also offers a property tax exemption for solar power installations. “Florida provides a 100% property tax exemption for residential renewable energy property and an 80% property tax abatement for non-residential renewable energy property.”
That property tax exemption tags onto a sales tax exemption that Floridians who go solar have benefited from since 1997.
And, as with anyone in the US who goes solar, you can benefit from the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).
Again, if you are planning to go solar, check out the DSIRE database for local incentives as well as the US DOE list. Local solar installers should also be able to help you to minimize your costs and maximize your investment.
Options for Going Solar in Florida
As far as how to join the 221,520+ Florida homes that have gone solar, as noted above, there are 273 solar installers/developers in the state, which together employ thousands of people. There are large solar installers that serve much of the country, but solar is very much a localized industry. Thousands of small, local installers across the USA can outcompete their bigger brothers because they focus efficiently on the home markets they know superbly well and don’t have large overhead, sales, and financing costs like large national installers often have.
Nonetheless, highlighting how hot this market is, it’s worth noting that the largest solar installer in the country, California-based Sunrun, entered Florida in 2017 and recently expanded its offerings. Additionally, SolarCity (now part of Tesla), formerly the largest solar installer in the country, entered Florida at the end of 2016. Both companies have historically grown a lot on a solar leasing/PPA model, which finally became an option in April 2018.
Solar leasing was extremely popular in key US markets for years since it was a popular way around the upfront costs of going solar. Homeowners could go solar with little to nothing down and save money right off the bat — just saving less than if they purchases their solar system with cash. As costs have come down, cash purchases and loans to go solar have become more popular, but leasing is still a fairly popular option.
Aside from solar leasing, another way around an upfront cash purchase (whether supported by a loan or not) is property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing. PACE financing increases your regular property tax bills to eventually cover the cost of the system but save you from having to pay for it up front.
Or you can also go solar via a nice sweaty wad of Florida cash.
All in all, these are some basic options for how to finance a rooftop solar PV system:
Your own cash.
A loan from the bank.
A solar lease/PPA.
Monopoly money — but you’re unlikely to get many watts with that.
And as far as a solar installer, there are national brands like the two mentioned above but there are also many more local Florida installers who have probably been in business in your neighborhood much longer. Fill out our short, easy, fun home solar form to get some quotes or contact info for local solar installers.
June 22, 2018
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