Sarasota County residents have until Aug. 31 to sign up for solar co-op initiative

Representative of Solar United Neighbors explains the nonprofit’s process to Siesta Key Association members

Solar United Neighbors features this in a series of images on its website homepage. Image courtesy Solar United Neighbors

Homeowners in Sarasota County interested in installing solar energy panels have until Aug. 31 to sign up with a co-op that will reduce their expenses, a representative of the nonprofit Solar United Neighbors told members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) last week.

Already, Sarasota County has climbed to the No. 2 spot among the state’s 67 counties in terms of solar energy kilowatt production, with 651.5 kW, Lynn Nilssen explained to about 20 people during the SKA’s Aug. 2 session.

In May, Solar United Neighbors began its second initiative in the county to seek homeowner participation, she pointed out. Last year, during the first undertaking, 198 people participated in meetings, she added, and 69 of them ended up installing solar panels.

The Solar United Neighbors website features this image of a solar array on the home of Joel and Pamela Jevotovsky in West Palm Beach. Image from the Solar United Neighbors website

Even if someone signs up, she emphasized, the person is not obligated to use solar power. Additionally, she pointed out, no one has to pay a fee to sign up.

The limit for this second initiative is 200 homeowners, Nilssen explained, so as not to overwhelm the installers with which the co-op works. As of Aug. 2, she noted, about 160 people had signed up.

The average size of the systems being installed on homes is 6 kW, she continued, at an expense of about $15,000. A federal income tax credit  — which is good through 2019 — will cover 30% of that expense, Nilssen said, stressing the “huge savings.”

If a homeowner does not owe enough tax in the initial year to use the full 30%, she pointed out, the homeowner “can carry that over to subsequent years.”

She and her husband are among those who have worked through the co-op, she explained. Their average energy cost is $8 per month, as a result.

Lynn Nilssen refers to statistics in a PowerPoint presentation during the SKA meeting on Aug. 2. Rachel Hackney photo

The pay-off of the systems used to be 20 years, Nilssen added. “Now, it’s … five or 10 years, [which] is not a long time,” she pointed out. As soon as the system is installed and operational, she said, “you’re saving money.”

Moreover, Nilssen noted, research has shown that when a homeowner sells a house with a solar system, the homeowner gets back “pretty much 100%” of the cost of the panels in that transaction.

Although Florida is third in the nation in terms of its potential for solar energy generation, Nilssen told the audience, it is only 10th in the United States in terms of current capacity. “It’s unconscionable, really. … We’re the Sunshine State.”

However, she continued, in 2016, Florida saw 110% growth in solar power.

“We spend about $50 billion a year out of state,” Nilssen said, to provide conventional forms of energy to Florida customers.

Increased use of solar power reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and leads to reduced carbon — and therefore, less acidity — in the oceans, she added; it also decreases power companies’ needs for new generating plants.

Nilssen explained that homeowner associations cannot prevent a person from installing panels on a house, even if those panels will be on the front of a structure. No sales tax is charged on the installation, she added, and the homeowner will not pay more property tax as a result of the addition of the equipment.

If the homeowner ends up producing more energy than he or she needs each month, Nilssen noted, Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) will credit the homeowner on a 1:1 basis for the retail cost. If the homeowner produces more energy than needed on an annual basis, she added, FPL will give the homeowner a check for the wholesale value of that energy at the end of the year.

County resident William Oegerle, who was present for the meeting, explained that after he signed up with the co-op, a representative of a solar panel company came to his house. The firm already had downloaded satellite photos of his residence, he added, which it used to determine the suitability of the house for solar panels. The company calculates how much solar energy the panels would be able to produce on the house and compares that to the customer’s FPL bills, Oegerle continued.

Solar United Neighbors provides this information about its Florida initiative. Image from the nonprofit’s website

The co-op vets all the installers, Nilssen explained, to ensure they will provide service of high quality to customers. The co-op also follows each installation process, she added, to make certain the company does a good job. “So you have that support from Solar United Neighbors.”

When an SKA member asked about the solar panels’ ability to withstand hurricane-force winds, Oegerle responded that the company representative who had worked with him said the panels were rated for winds up to 175 mph.

Additionally, Oegerle said, the panels are expected to have a life of 25 years.

City of Sarasota initiative

Nilssen also noted during her presentation that, about a year ago, the City of Sarasota became the second municipality in the state to commit to transition to 100% renewable energy in the future; St. Petersburg was the first.

Sarasota has pledged to achieve the milestone for its own operations by 2030, she said, with the aspiration that the community will achieve the same point by 2045.

The city took that action through the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 national initiative, she explained.

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin noted that decision in his July 27 newsletter. He mentioned that as he encouraged residents to join Solar Neighbors United. “The co-op is an excellent way to invest in solar energy and reduce your electric bills by leveraging the purchasing power of a group and ultimately buy solar panels at a more affordable price,” he wrote.

The League of Women Voters partnered with Solar United Neighbors to bring the co-op initiative to the state about two years ago, Nilssen told the SKA members.

More information, including a list of frequently asked questions, may be find at www.SolarUnitedNeighbors.org.

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