By Sara Zipf
The city of Tampa ranks no. 29 out of 70 major cities in the United States for solar energy capacity, a recent report by the Environment Florida Research & Policy Center reveals. At no. 19, Jacksonville is the highest listed Florida city, while Orlando comes in at no. 32, and Miami no. 53. Although solar accounts for a small fraction of the energy used by Florida, public utilities like Duke Energy and Tampa Electric have recently moved to solar power — largely due to significant decreases in price. In fact, the cost of solar has dropped by 70 percent over the last decade.
“The numbers that you’re seeing in the Environmental Florida Report are due to homeowners that are taking it upon themselves to install solar without the PACE financing options, so they’re either paying for cash or getting some financing on their own,” said Whit Remer, . PACE (or Property Assessed Clean Energy) lets homeowners borrow money for home improvements like rooftop solar panels at low rates, which is then paid back by increases to property taxes. Additionally, “the technology involved in solar power has come down to a price point that makes it more competitive with traditional forms of power generation,” says Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson for Tampa Electric. While TECO currently has around 600 megawatts of solar power generation capacity, they aim to double this. “In the next three years, we’re going to add another 600 megawatts. So when we’re done with that expansion, we will have enough solar energy to produce energy for 200,000 homes,” Jacobs says.
Tampa’s solar co-oops
Solar co-ops are also making it easier for Tampa Bay residents to purchase rooftop solar. Co-ops are free to join and let neighbors go solar together at a discounted rate. Typically, residential solar panels are around 20 percent efficient, referring to how much captured sunlight they can convert into useful energy. Solar panels can help Tampa residents save thousands of dollars on electricity bills over the lifetime of the panels. When it comes to co-ops, Solar United Neighbors operates in Hillsborough County along with SELF (Solar Energy Loan Fund), a nonprofit providing loans, project management, and approved contractors to improve energy efficiency in the wider Tampa area. The Greater Tampa Solar Co-op is also eligible for residents and business owners in Hillsborough County while those in Pinellas County can join the Greater St. Pete Co-op.
Low prices and co-ops aren’t the only factors encouraging Tampa Bay residents to adopt solar. Congress recently passed legislation to extend the federal solar Investment Tax Credit. This means 26 percent of the cost of solar energy systems recently installed can be deducted from federal taxes. Moreover, Florida also has a “net metering” policy, which means any excess electricity generated by your solar panels that goes unused is sent to the grid while you save money from credits on your electric bill. By improving efforts to adopt clean energy, Tampa residents are saving money and helping create a cleaner and fairer electricity system everyone can benefit from.