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South Miami just made a huge rooftop solar decision

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Climate Central

South Miami this week became the first city outside of California to require all new homes to install solar panels on their roofs.

Six cities in the Golden State began requiring solar to be installed on new homes over the past few years. But in Florida, where voters killed proposed solar restrictions last year, South Miami is now a pioneer.

This week, the South Miami City Commission in a 4-1 vote approved a law requiring solar panels to be installed on all new homes built in the city.

Solar panels line the exterior wall of an apartment building in Santa Monica, Calif. Source: Climate Central

Solar panels line the exterior wall of an apartment building in Santa Monica, Calif. Source: Climate Central

Mayor Philip Stoddard says the city is trying to cut its carbon footprint because the region will be deeply affected by climate change, especially as sea levels rise.

“We’re down in South Florida where climate change and sea level rise are existential threats, so we’re looking for every opportunity to promote renewable energy,” Stoddard said.

“It’s carbon reduction, plain and simple. We have a pledge for carbon neutrality. We support the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Stoddard said he expects only a few new homes and other buildings to be built in South Miami this year because the city of about 11,000 is surrounded on all sides by dense urban development and has very little space for new construction.

But the requirement for new homes complements the city’s push for existing homeowners to put solar on their roofs.

The new law won’t put solar panels on all the region’s homes and it won’t significantly cut climate pollution, but it is the first concrete step by a city outside of California to require renewable energy to be considered as part of the design of any new home.

It also sets an example for other cities that may be considering doing the same thing.

Action to expand renewables on the local level is critical at a time when the federal government has stepped back from advocating for renewable energy, said Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware.

Rooftop solar helps wean America’s electric power system off coal and natural gas power plants that pollute the atmosphere with large amounts of carbon dioxide.

President Obama made support for rooftop solar a part of his Climate Action Plan, which the Trump administration has abandoned.

“These mandates will have an effect locally,” Firestone said. “As to the larger effect, they would hopefully move states to increase the fraction of (electricity) generation that has to be dedicated toward renewable energy.”

A solar panel is insallted on a San Francisco rooftop. Source: Climate Central.

A solar panel is installed on a San Francisco rooftop. Source: Climate Central.

Solar installation mandates would also help accelerate the acceptance of rooftop solar across the country, said K Kaufmann, spokeswoman for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nonpartisan renewable energy education organization in Washington, D.C.

As solar panel costs have fallen in recent years, a growing number of homes have installed them, often with the assistance of companies such as SolarCity, which helps to finance and install photovoltaic panels.

Rooftop solar makes up only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of all the electricity generated in the U.S..

The amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homes and businesses across the country is expected to grow by 70 percent by the end of next year.

So far, the largest city in the country to mandate rooftop solar panels is San Francisco, which began requiring them on most new buildings beginning in January.

The city mandates that solar panels, a “living roof,” or a combination of the two occupy between 15 and 30 percent of the surface area of a new rooftop. A “living roof” is covered with grass, trees or other vegetation.

Other California cities that have mandated solar panel installations include Culver CitySan MateoLancasterSebastopol and Santa Monica.

In Florida, the rooftop solar mandate didn’t come easily for South Miami.

Florida utilities and other groups launched a ballot initiative last year in an attempt to limit the expansion of rooftop solar.

The proposed amendment to the state constitutional would have allowed utilities to charge fees to solar panel owners as a way to make up for the loss of revenue when homeowners generate their own electricity, according to Politifact.

A rooftop solar installation. Source: Climate Central

A rooftop solar installation. Source: Climate Central

The state’s largest utilities spent more than $20 million to support the ballot initiative, but the measure failed at the polls in November.

South Miami’s electric utility, Florida Power and Light, which supported the ballot measure, did not respond to a request for comment.

In June, the South Miami solar mandate was opposed by the Washington, D.C. lobbying group Family Businesses for Affordable Energy, which says on its website that homeowners expose themselves to “predatory companies” that hide various costs associated with solar installations.

The group did not respond to requests for comment.

“Despite all our sunshine, public utilities have spent tens of millions of dollars to fight solar,” Stoddard said. The measure’s defeat helped clear the way for the city to push solar panel installations for both new and existing homes.

“I expect to see a lot more residents voluntarily putting solar on houses,” he said.

Source: Climate Central. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • john

    So if a new house is built how are they going to enter a contract with the power company?
    Is the outcome that the inverter must have an energy control system in place to ensure zero export?
    Is the outcome some kind of payment for export, the fact the energy suppliers would not give comment makes it hard to find the answer.
    Regardless of the outcome the actions of the local authority would appear a step along the best direction.

  • Brunel

    Ground based solar is cheaper and easier to clean!

    • Alastair Leith

      that’s a ridiculous claim

      • Brunel

        Have you seen the proposed laws regarding lithium batteries in AUS?

        The proposal is to disallow them in houses unless they are in a fireproof bunker!

        Let home owners decide where to install them solar panels and batteries.

        • Coley

          Ok, so stick it in your garden rather than on your roof, just what point are you trying to make?

          • Brunel

            Install the solar panels 1000 km away on barren land and transmit the electricity to houses.

            A) rooftop solar does not have tracking
            B) rooftop solar is harder to clean

          • jeffhre

            The utilities do not allow that type of wanton behavior in Florida.

          • Brunel

            Do they not have electricity retailers there?

            I can buy 100% renewable electricity from a retailer in Vic – I think.

          • Coley

            Why not have both?

          • Brunel

            You can have both. Nobody is stopping you. But ground based solar is cheaper.

          • trackdaze

            Not if you have to buy or rent the land. A roof is sunk cost

          • Brunel

            I mean put the solar panels on barren land in Nevada and transmit the electrons to the east coast via UHVDC. This also has the benefit of Miami being able to get cheap solar power after sunset. Think about it.

          • Francesco Nicoletti

            The people in Nevada call it scenery not barren land. The uhvdc power line costs a fortune. If a house has a viable roof structure installation costs are minimal and transmission costs are nil.
            Roof top solar is power supply as as capital investment by the owner of the property, rather then power supply as a monopoly service . This is the first genuine competition that the utilitys have faced. That competition is what will drive down elecicity prices.

          • Brunel

            UHVDC power line costs a fortune?

            How come China and India have such lines?

            They are cheaper than HVAC lines.

            The 2003 Power Cut cut off power supply to everyone from Detroit to Baltimore. A distance of 780 km.

            So electrons are transmitted long distances – but via leaky AC rather than UHVDC.

          • Francesco Nicoletti

            I don’t know about India but China is a communist country. Land is all in principle state owned. Power lines can go wherever the state wants them to go. In the US people have to be paid for the use of their land, even if they are forced to sell it. There is a lot of land under an intercontinental power line.

          • trackdaze

            Fair point.

            One imagines the cost of transmission negates its benefit to the individual.

          • Brunel

            What do you mean.

        • trackdaze

          Seeing that Florida is seeing seas rise almost 1cm per year since 2006 and with NOAA forecast 3mtre of sea level rise for 2100. Ground based is perhaps not the best for Sth Miami.

  • technerdx6000

    This should be law everywhere. Especially properties built to be rented out

  • Miles Harding

    ” “Despite all our sunshine, public utilities have spent tens of millions of dollars to fight solar,” Stoddard said.”

    Dinosaurs! They deserve to go extinct.

    Over here, in WA, the much despised local retailer, Synergy, has been re-inventing itself lately, giving me some cause for hope that old saurians can evolve.

    I was looking at one of my friends electricty bills lately. In with the bill was another page encouraging them to install solar and estimating the annual savings, which would be considerable in their case. Our local newspapers frequently carry adverts offering 5kW solar for less than $3500, making their payback period only about 3 years – al ot better than money in the bank or shares.

    The Miami situation is a bit different, electricity prices are about 10.5 cents (US), so the payback period will be longer. This also suggests to me that Florida electricity is subsidised to some extent, but the nature of the subsidy is unclear. It could be state bearing some maintenance from general revenue, or that they simply aren’t maintaining their systems adequately*.

    *It could be like the nation’s highway bridges, which are in an alarming condition through lack of maintenence, see the following:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/american-infrastructure-falling-apart-2017-2

    • solarguy

      Those companies advertising 5kw solar for $3,500 are a con. It’s total utter Bullshit. The ACCC should be investergating them for false advertising!

  • jeffhre

    “Florida utilities and other groups launched a ballot initiative last year in an attempt to limit the expansion of rooftop solar.”

    The poor little utilities are really suffering and shouldn’t be limited to just these charges in the face of lost monopoly revenues. They should be able to charge newly liberated landowners who lost their buildings to natural disasters like hurricanes and sea surges. And be able to charge parents whose teen aged kids leave for college out of state and cost the utility a bundle.

    And charge for anyone suffering from a debilitating illness who does not consume energy the way they did before. And anyone who does not continue to fully utilize any building for any reason in the future (or adds LED lights) – how are the poor utilities supposed to plan for such disastrous contingencies anyway? It’s just wrong of consumers to do that. And so short sighted of them…

    People should not be allowed to get away with this stuff.

  • Joe

    We have BASIX but Rooftop Solar is not part of it which is just crazy.