CUTTING EDGE SOLAR F-I-T
Gainesville at the forefront of the future of energy
Kevin Spear, April 19, 2009 (Orlando Sentinel)
"The future of energy as dreamed about by ardent environmentalists would bring a mini-electric plant to every garage or every rooftop…[It may already] be happening in Gainesville…[Gainesville Regional Utilities is offering nearly three times more than it charges] to residential and business customers who make electricity with solar panels and feed it into the utility's power grid.
"The approach is one of many ways to encourage solar energy in the Sunshine State…Gainesville's plan, the first of its kind in the nation, is drawing attention like few other energy initiatives…Within days of starting the program in March, GRU had to turn away applicants….[T]wice as many solar panels are installed on [Gainesville] homes and businesses as are now used in the rest of Florida…"
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"The initiative is attracting not just the green-minded, stirred by former Vice President Gore's campaign to raise awareness about the perils of greenhouse-gas emissions. Also coming on board are those repelled by Gore the Democrat, even though his Oscar-winning activism has helped focus the nation on emissions from power plants that burn coal…
"Resigned to federal limits, utilities such as GRU are scrambling to implement greener, cleaner ways to produce electricity…GRU rejected the pricey option of buying power from a pair of nuclear reactors that another utility, Progress Energy Florida, hopes to start up in Levy County…
"The Gainesville City Commission opted instead for an approach popular in Germany but largely unknown in the United States…[The "feed-in tariff" pays participants] for feeding electricity into a utility's grid…Customers producing electricity will be paid 32 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity…GRU charges 12½ cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity used by residential customers…[O]ffering a premium rate for solar energy means the utility will have to hike what it charges…GRU's nearly 90,000 residential customers will see an average of 78 cents extra tacked onto monthly bills."
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"But the utility isn't measuring the worth of its new program strictly by the price of power…[City leaders and GRU officials] want to bolster a solar industry that provides local jobs…[and] stop spending so much on coal and natural gas imported from other states…[and] position…for upcoming limits on greenhouse-gas emissions…
"The utility's 32-cent rate will decline steadily over the years, with the expectation that solar costs will continue to drop…[T]he program is still widely regarded as an important experiment to keep track of…"